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Having walked through the desert en route to Israel...

  • HabonimShaliach
There is something about being an emissary for Israel that reinforces my profound love for the country.And the distance from family that my work demands makes me long for it even more.
by DANNY ADENO ABEBE | Mar 29, 2018

This Pesach will be our first one outside of our family circle. It is also the first Pesach outside of Israel since we arrived there from Ethiopia, courtesy of Operation Moses, more than 25 years ago.

And as I and other shlichim have experienced, Shabbat and chagim bring forth this yearning for home.

On Saturdays and holidays, I can’t stop imagining the delicious aromas resulting from my mother’s cooking. The images are so close to my heart, I can almost smell them.

I have visions every holiday evening of seeing my father sitting in front of me. I feel his paternal gaze and his soft hands stroking my head. In our little house in Jerusalem, Pesach has many meanings for us.

In addition to being a holiday that gives more meaning to the term ‘Jewish family’, this chag has existential and cultural relevance. On Seder nights, I imagine the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu. I read between the lines of the biblical text to note the charisma and leadership skills of Moses, despite his speech deficiency. In an age where there is no inspiration from political leadership in Israel, it is hard not to miss the valuable leadership lessons from Moshe.

Usually in our home, the table is filled with the good produce of the land. The laughter of my father’s grandchildren – among them my own children – breaks the silent reflection of our past slavery that is deeply embedded in us.

We understand the meaning of freedom, liberty and a long journey undertaken through the desert. My family has experienced the uncertainty through our own journey, as well as the sense of helplessness, much like the wandering Jews must have experienced with Moses as they walked through the desert without truly knowing their destination or having hope.

When we read the Haggadah, we feel we are part of that same journey, part of the people who reluctantly followed Moshe Rabbeinu.

Yes, we were there too.

We, too, walked in the desert dressed in minimal clothing, thirsty for water and hungry for food. We, too, walked endlessly without knowing where our escape route from Ethiopia would lead us. Like those Children of Israel, we were refugees against our will. We, too, shed tears while burying our dead where there was no cemetery. We, too, laid our dead to rest at the side of the path and continued our seemingly endless journey with the vague hope of reaching the land of Israel.

As someone who is a member of an Ethiopian family who made aliya during Operation Moses, it is hard to shake off the comparison between our exhausting journey and that of the Children of Israel. We had the same purpose – getting to the land of Israel.

I still remember my father’s dark gaze and my mother falling ill in the desert.I remember my sick younger brother in the refugee camp in Sudan. I remember myself with a runny nose and a bleak look of hopelessness.

I remember the dead having been buried among the great stones, near a tree trunk or behind a small grove because they were Jews. Among them was my father’s sister.

On this day, all our family members sit around the Seder table and tell the story of the exodus from Egypt and of G-d’s miracle with the Children of Israel. I praise the G-d miracle in bringing us from Ethiopia to Israel.

Nearly four decades have passed since we arrived in Israel, and still we all feel that every Seder night is done mainly in our honour.

For almost 40 years, my father has been combining the exodus of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and our exodus from Ethiopia under his leadership. The difference between our journey to freedom and that undertaken by the entire Jewish people, led by Moses, lies in a small thing. We managed to get to the Promised Land after paying a heavy price of people having died, having taken ill and having been scarred for life from this traumatic experience. However, Moshe paid the ultimate price on behalf of an entire nation with his life: he did not achieve the fulfilment of his dream and his wanderings.

This Pesach, as a shaliach of Habonim Dror, I will have my first Seder with South African Jewish families. Between the bite, the sip of wine and the reading of the scroll, my father will come to me again: his gaze will clash with mine and we will both remember our Exodus.

In the diaspora it is customary to make two Seders. My first Seder will be dedicated to our families in Israel, while the second will be dedicated to those who dreamed of coming to Israel and paid the price so we could realise our dream.

Happy Passover!

Danny Adeno Abebe is the Habonim Dror and the World Zionist Organisation shaliach to South Africa.

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