Ono Ethiopian Scholar Launches New Book About a Dialogue Between the Son of a Kes and the Daughter of a Rabbi

On March 27, 2022, Ono Scholar, Rabbi Dr. Sharon Zaude Shalom launched his new book Dialogues of Love and Fear at Beit Matan in Ra’anana. Rabbi Sharon is the founding director of Ono Academic College’s International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry. The semi-autobiographical book, published by Koren, recounts a dialogue between the son of a Kes (traditional Ethiopian religious leader) and the daughter of a Rabbi. In addition to showcasing the new book, the evening celebrated Rabbi Shalom’s storied life, from his childhood in Ethiopia, to his escape via the Mossad to his groundbreaking integration between Ethiopian Jewish theology and that of Rabbinic Judaism.

The program began with an outdoor reception in a tent adorned with Ethiopian decorations.  Traditional Ethiopian refreshments were served as guests enjoyed the musical performance of Ethiopian saxophonist Avtah Briyhon

The dignitaries who introduced the event included: Rabbanit Oshra Koren, Director of Matan HaSharon  Aryeh Friedman, Head of the Religious Council of Ra’anana, Matthew Miller, Publisher at Koren Publishers of Jerusalem and Ilan Gewurz, representing the Gewurz family, one of the book’s chief sponsors.  Their speeches put the book into historical, religious and personal perspective.  Gerwurz noted his first meeting with Rabbi Sharon when they served together in the IDF’s Givati Brigade, an Ethiopian Jew and a new immigrant, who were outsiders but who wanted to give their all for the State of Israel. 

Dani Limor, the Mossad commander in charge of “Operation Brothers” which rescued Ethiopian Jews and brought them to Israel in the 1970’s and 1980’s, told exhilarating stories about various missions, including the one that brought Rabbi Shalom to Israel.  Fascinating anecdotes included:

  • When smuggling Ethiopian Jews along the highways, Limor ordered his drivers to blast through checkpoints without stopping when the Ethiopian soldiers commanded them to because the one time Limor stopped he and his staff were detained from which they barely escaped.
  • In the course of a smuggling run, one of the Ethiopian mothers gave birth and Limor was asked to perform a Brit Mila (circumcision). Limor recalled telling the infant’s father that, “In the Mossad, they teach you a lot of skills, but how to perform a Brit Mila was not one of them.”
  • Limor stressed that the Ethiopian Jews he helped come to Israel acted as operatives and were not passive. They demonstrated military like discipline when participating in their own escape. He singled out his Ethiopian partner, Farede Aklum, a teacher turned super-spy, for particular praise,
  • During his stay in Ethiopia, Limor took on various aliases, impersonating an official of the UN High Commission on Refugees, an anthropologist and a medical doctor, among others. When posing as a physician, he was stopped by a group of bandits and, in order to maintain his cover, performed a medical examination on their leader and then “prescribed” a 3-day course of aspirin.
  • Limor told of Rabbi Shalom’s own escape from Ethiopia by sea, which was depicted in the Netflix movie, “The Red Sea Diving Resort”. In the movie, Limor was portrayed by actor Chris Evans and his slideshow featured pictures of the two together on set. Limor noted that many of the Ethiopian Jews had never seen the ocean before and they joked about how as a young boy, Rabbi Shalom was afraid that the waves would sink their boat. Rabbi Shalom completed the circle, however, when he was chosen by the Limor family to perform the wedding of one of Dani’s sons.

At various points, in the program, Ethiopian saxophonist Avtah Briyhon entertained the audience with interludes combining traditional modern jazz and Ethiopian Jewish musical motifs.  His vocal performance featured Hebrew language Psalms and Amharic religious poetry. Briyhon had a captivating personal story himself.  While travelling to a performance when serving in the Ethiopian Army Concert Band, his convoy was attacked by rebels and he was one of the only survivors. Briyhon then went on to make Aliyah to Israel.

The next speaker, Tanya White, spoke on the topic of “Judaism as a Religion of Dialogue”.  She described her personal connection to Rabbi Shalom’s project and explored how contemporary sources including Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Martin Buber addressed similar issues of relating to and conversing with the other.

Rabbi Dr. Sharon Zaude Shalom followed, presenting the intellectual framework from which his new book emerged. He began by thanking those in the audience who had a hand in the book’s writing and publishing.  Shalom discussed how Judaism simultaneously holds two concepts that are found in Psalm 34: “Turn away from evil and do good.”  Both of these ideas are critical, but Rabbi Shalom noted that Ethiopian Jewry places the greater focus on the “Do good” part of the equation and that this emphasis permeates Ethiopian Jewish thinking regarding a range of moral, philosophical and religious issues. He summarized this positive outlook on human nature which characterizes Ethiopian Jewish philosophy using a phrase he learned from his grandmother, “the language of the heart.”