Dollars Given Locally Help Around the World, Too
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Michelle Hirsch | SPECIAL TO THE CJN
Almost five weeks ago, I walked into the Addis Ababa airport to greet 209 Ethiopian Jews who were about to make aliyah, ending the wait their families had endured for generations – to fulfill the promise of making their way to Jerusalem “delivered on the wings of eagles.” The strength, courage and focus of these men, women, and children were every bit as steadfast as the wings on the airplane that was about to fly four hours to Israel, where their dreams would finally come true.
My mom, Carmie Stein, Rachel Lappen, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s chief development officer, and I represented Cleveland with a total of 60 other Jewish Federation leaders from across North America. We visited Ethiopia’s Jewish community in Gondar and then escorted a plane chartered by The Jewish Agency for Israel filled with Ethiopian Jews making aliyah to Israel. Upon landing in Israel, we then visited one of 29 absorption centers to see the process of how The Jewish Agency helps set up Israel’s newest citizens for success.
This was a life-changing experience for the 209 Ethiopian Jews who woke up on Sept. 14 in their mud huts with no electricity and running water, then went to sleep later that night in an Israeli apartment with a full belly and warm neshama (spirit/soul) knowing that they had finally fulfilled their destiny of making it to the promised land.
We met these families and heard stories of how they’d been torn apart from loved ones who were allowed to make Aliyah decades earlier. We heard in their voice the unwavering commitment to one day be reunited with them.
We joined the Jewish community of Gondar’s morning Shacharit service, surrounded by 600 Jews divided by a mechitza, men wearing tallit and yarmulkes. Our group saw the community’s mikvah, visited their Jewish library, and learned about the medical and nutritional services as well as the special schooling provided for the Jewish community.
I have had the honor of visiting several countries around the world to see our Federation dollars at work, and it’s always inspiring. Yet what our Federation dollars are doing for the Ethiopian Jewish community is the definition of life saving. We are keeping them alive in Gondar – a “community in waiting” – and we are helping them travel to and settle into a new life in Israel. Truly transformational.
It was a full circle experience, from walking through the mud village of Gondar, singing “Hatikvah” together, to cheering and then singing “Hatikvah” as the plane touched down at Ben-Gurion airport.
As we celebrate the new year, I think about my new friends that were given the gift to daven, not in their dirt floor tent, but instead in the land of Israel, and my heart smiles. I also think of the friends who remain davening in the dirt floor tent hoping that next year will be the year that they will get to fly, and my heart sinks.
I am thankful to our Federation and The Jewish Agency for all that they do and will continue to do. I encourage every member of our community to do what they can to donate to the Federation’s annual campaign to help make a difference for Jews in Cleveland, Ethiopia and around the world.
The dollars we raise give the eagles wings, give Jews around the world the ability to fly, not just on that plane, but to soar in life.
Am Yisrael Chai has never been more true. Whether it’s in Gondar or Beachwood, we are the people of Israel, and it is incumbent upon all of us to do whatever we can to take care of each other.
Michelle Hirsch is Allocations Committee Chair, Jewish Federation of Cleveland.