Ethiopian Jews have fascinated the global Jewish community for centuries. With their origins shrouded in mystery, their geographic isolation, and their unique religious customs, they have had to prove their Jewishness repeatedly to Jews abroad. Nevertheless, their heroic exodus to Israel, particularly during Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991), remain legendary chapters of the Jewish story.
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Jews of Ethiopian origin consider themselves to be direct descendants of Moses and refer to themselves as the “Beta Israel.” They believe they were descended from some of Moses’ children who were separated during the Exodus, went southward and eventually settled in Ethiopia.
While living in isolation from the rest of the Jewish world for centuries, Ethiopian Jews believed they were the only living Jews and felt a responsibility and desire to pass on Jewish tradition and knowledge while also protecting themselves and their religion from the tyrannical Christian government.
With the establishment of Israel and the 1950 Israeli Law of Return, immigrants with Jewish parents or grandparents were allowed to begin settling and gaining citizenship in Israel. Though Ethiopian Jews were allowed to settle in Israel, it wasn’t until 1975 that they were eligible for Israeli citizenship. Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991) were the two main efforts of the Israeli government to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Ethiopian Jews, though accepted by Israeli government, faced numerous adversities in absorption. They have accused fellow Israelis of racism and mistreatment.