Photos Show Ethiopian Jews' Rescue

AN intriguing photo exhibit capturing Israel's Operation Solomon, the rescue mission last year of 14,500 Ethiopian Jews, is touring the nation.

The exhibit, recently on display in Boston City Hall, includes nearly two dozen color photographs of the rescue from Addis Ababa to Israel that began May 24, 1991. The goal was to airlift the Ethiopian Jews, considered outcasts in the troubled north African nation, to their Jewish homeland. The photos show different stages of the mission, from the Ethiopians' stay at the Israeli Embassy to their arrival at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv.

"We are proud to open this exhibit and share this momentous event in this country," Allan Goldstein, chairman of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, says.

Israel had been planning to rescue this ancient community of Ethiopian Jews, living in impoverished mountain villages, since the 1970s. In 1984, the government airlifted about 16,000 of them to Israel. And while some of the remaining Ethiopians fled to Israel on their own, others were unable to make the journey. According to Barbara Ribakove Gordon, director of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, those left behind were either sick, elderly, or women with children. "They were living in appal ling conditions," she says.

The Jewish organizations helped the Ethiopians on buses to Addis Ababa where they stayed at the Israeli embassy. There they waited until the Ethiopian government allowed them to leave. At the embassy, they were given food and supplies. The Israelis also held school classes for children and set up a medical clinic.

At the time, Addis Ababa was in danger because the country was in the midst of a civil war. So when the Ethiopian government allowed the Israelis to airlift the immigrants back to Israel, speed was crucial.

Israel's entire El Al commercial fleet of 34 planes and 40 sorties was used in the operation. Aircraft were stripped of seats to double capacity. The Ethiopians could not carry much more than the clothes on their backs.

The complete collection includes 36 photos taken by five photographers.

The Boston exhibit was sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel, in conjunction with local Jewish organizations. Later this month, the exhibit, which was also on display at the Empire State Building in New York, will be shown at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and at Princeton University.

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