Home to the Holy Land: Oklahoma City leader witnesses Ethiopian Jews' journey to Israel

Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Oklahoma City, shares her story of traveling with Ethiopian Jews on their one-way trip to Israel for the culmination of a mission effort called “Completing the Journey.”
BY EDIE ROODMAN Modified: July 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm •  Published: July 20, 2013
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This foray into the Ethiopian countryside gave us a frame of reference for finally meeting the new olim — emigrants — at the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) Transit House, where they were being outfitted for their journey. Jewish Federations of North America along with their Israeli partners offer a basket of services to the olim in preparation for their new life.

As we walked together through a downpour toward the embassy in Addis Ababa, Jews of all ages and backgrounds, the sense of unity and joy was truly overwhelming. Our official farewell hosted by the ambassador at the embassy provided closure for this phase of the journey and created a sense of pride and celebration before we embarked to Israel.

Fulfilling the dream

The flight to Israel was foreign in so many ways to the Ethiopians, most of whom had never seen an airplane or operated a seat belt. Descending the stairs to the Ben Gurion Airport tarmac with the traditionally garbed travelers, we were overcome when many of them knelt to kiss the ground of the Holy Land. The scene struck at the heart of 30 years of supporting this noble cause.

Pointed in different directions while our passports were processed, we then proceeded together into the great hall of the airport to be greeted with hugs, flowers, kisses and tears by the families, many of whom had been separated for decades.

Being a part of fulfilling the dream of the exodus of Jews from Ethiopia has in large measure fueled my passion for so many years. It was an honor to bear witness to a spectacular humanitarian operation that intensely changed the fabric of Israeli society.

The integration of Ethiopian Jews into modern Israel is an endeavor of biblical proportions. Ethiopians who kept the flame of Judaism at the heart of Africa for 2,000 years are now part of the fabric of Israel.

Coming back to Oklahoma City to tell this extraordinary story is a powerful reminder of what I just experienced.

Despite being a small Jewish Federation, the Oklahoma City group played a crucial role along with other Jewish Federations from across the country in this epic drama to save Jewish lives and fulfill the promise of the ingathering of the Jewish people.

Roodman can be reached by email at edie@jfedokc.org.

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Editor's note: In June, Edie Roodman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, took part in “Completing the Journey,” a mission that capped a historic three-decade campaign by Jewish Federations, the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to resettle Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Roodman, a longtime metro area leader, shares her involvement in this historic event in the first in an ongoing series featuring Oklahomans and mission work around the country and the world.

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