On May 26 1991, the United States prodded the Ethiopian government to allow Israel to carry 14,500 Ethiopian Jews – just about the entire Jewish population of that country – to safety in 36 hours. The emergency rescue was carried out during the Jewish Sabbath when activities such as long-distance travel and operating machinery are prohibited. Permissible, because this was a life-saving mission.
New York Times’ Joel Brinkley reported,
At the airport this morning, it was difficult to tell who was more joyful — the barefoot Ethiopians who cheered, ululated and bent down to kiss the tarmac as they stepped off the planes, or the Israelis who watched them aglow, marveling at this powerful image showing that their state still holds appeal, even with all its problems…
Pilots, flight attendants and others stood back with pocket cameras, smiling as they snapped reminders of “this historic moment,” as all of them repeatedly called it.
The sun began to rise just as the plane took off. Looking out the window, Yehoda Alamaho shook his head in wonder as he said, “I am so happy to be going to Israel after all this time.”
Chaim Gouri, an Israeli journalist aboard, was just as wondrous when he said, “They’re ending a trip of 3,000 years.” Origins Are Unclear
No one knows with any certainty the origins of Ethiopia’s Jews, but it is clear that they observe the faith the way it was practiced before the First Temple was destroyed 2,500 years ago. They know nothing of the rabbinical teachings, Talmudic scholarship or other refinements that have been added to Judaism since then.