Ono Graduate Tells Harrowing Story of His Flight From Ethiopia to Israel

(Photo: Dana Koppel)
In a recent YNET article profiling Ethiopian Jewish children who faced hardships on their journey to Israel, Ono graduate Asher Ayleen described his personal experience. He was 5 years old when he lost his father, grandparents in Sudan, and described his experience saying, “As a child you must maintain faith and hope. . . I was busy surviving.”
The article featuring Ayleen’s story was published in advance of Israel’s national memorial day marking the Ethiopian Jewish heroes who perished in Sudan on their way to Israel. In the years 1984-1980, a mass exodus of Ethiopian Jews, the Beta Israel community, began from the villages in the Gondar region of Ethiopia towards Sudan. The Jews suffered from epidemics, famine, and harassment, rape, and murderous robbery. The migration of families, including the elderly and children sometimes lasted months.
Those who managed to get to Sudan waited in temporary camps for immigration to Israel, sometimes for two years. The ascent through Sudan was made possible due to a quiet agreement between Israeli and Sudanese leaders, the details of which were known only to a few senior officials in Sudan. Mossad agents waiting for immigrants in camps on the Sudanese border requested them to downplay their Jewish identity for their safety. This requirement heartbreakingly prohibited them from giving a Jewish burial their family members who had died while waiting to immigrate to Israel. A shocking number of 4,000 Ethiopian Jews perished on the long and torturous journey from Ethiopia to Israel.
Asher Ayleen, today 43, was only 5 years old when he set out on the long journey with his father, older brother and grandfather to a camp in Sudan. His father fell ill in the refugee camp and died some time later and so did his grandparents. He and his brother were transferred to his aunt and spent 8 months in the refugee camp waiting to immigrate to Israel.
The wait in Sudan was difficult. Ayleen noted, “As a child you must continue to maintain sanity, faith and inner hope in order to survive.” In December 1984, he immigrated to Israel and hoped to meet his mother here, but he later found out that she also died in Sudan. He has continued regret over not mourning his mother as he would have liked. “I was busy surviving and did not want to show weakness,” he said.
“Being in a foreign country at the age of 9 without my parents, it was a dream that shattered. The dream of coming to the Land of Israel with the whole family just didn’t exist anymore,” he said. Despite the upheavals he went through at such a young age, he graduated from high school, enlisted in the IDF’s paratrooper brigade and then graduated from law school through the unique program for integrating Ethiopian students into Ono Academic College studies. He is currently a lawyer and working as a legal advisor, but the memories of the difficult journey do not leave him. “I sacrificed a lot to get to the Land of Israel and together with me came thousands of immigrants. I cherish gratitude and joy for my part, but in my eyes, this Memorial Day does not get enough of what.
Ayleen’s story will be one of many that will be remembered during the Memorial Day that takes place alongside the ceremonies and celebrations of Jerusalem Day in June. The city of Jerusalem always played a central role in the lives of Ethiopian Jewry.
Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption will hold the memorial service at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in the presence of the entire Ethiopian community. Symbolically, next week “Operation Tzur Israel” to return Ethiopian Jews to their homeland of Israel, will be renewed, after more than a year since the last plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport and bringing 2,000 immigrants to Israel. Following a government decision approving the immigration of 3,000 more Ethiopians of Jewish ancestry, the operation will be renewed. On Wednesday, the first plane with about 300 new immigrants from Gondar will land in Israel.
The full article, including a video interview with Dr. Webit Warko, a Ministry of Education leader involved in the Memorial Day ceremony, can be found at: https://www.ynet.co.il/news/article/rkmdnwhvq