I have visited Israel many times. 14 to be exact. I love Israeli people and culture and have often considered making Aliyah (hebrew meaning “ascent” – referring to one’s desire to move to a holier existence – to Israel).
I remember the first time I saw an Ethiopian Jew. It was 1989, I was three years old, and my parents brought me with them to the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Naturally, as a naïve 3-year-old, I wondered to myself, “How can these black people be Jewish?” I just didn’t know any better. I later learned that the Jews of Ethiopia were considered one of the lost tribes of Israel and fought desperately to return to the Holy Land to be amongst their Jewish brothers and sisters. Furthermore, their emigration to Israel was not unlike Adam Bashar’s arduous journey from Sudan to Egypt to Israel. This incredible parallel converged for me this past Sunday, March 13th, in New York, at the home of an old friend, Joey Low.
Nine years ago, Joey Low, a long-time friend and generous donor to The Last Survivor film, started an organization called Israel at Heart. Joey is very Zionistic, but more importantly, believes in each individual’s rights to their personal freedoms, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression. To that end, Israel at Heart endeavors to bolster the reputation and public perception of Israel by sending young ambassadors from Israel around the world to talk about their personal experiences. Many of these ambassadors are young, educated, driven, and remarkable Ethiopian Jews.
However, on Israel at Heart’s most recent mission to the USA, one of Israel’s ambassadors was not from Ethiopia, but rather, Sudan; our close friend, Adam Bashar. For two weeks, Adam lived at Joey’s home in Westchester, along with Dina, Ruth, and Shlomit (three animated and beautiful Ethiopian-Israelis), and traveled around the state speaking to audiences about their experiences in Israel. On Sunday night, 16 ambassadors, who had represented Israel at Heart in Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia and Washington D.C., all reconvened at Joey’s home before returning to Israel.
Christie and I spent Sunday afternoon at Joey’s home, speaking with the ambassadors and American supporters of Israel at Heart who had come to meet them. After lunch, the group assembled in the living room to hear each ambassador discuss his or her experiences in the past two weeks. Each ambassador chose a highlight, and many of them discussed the profound effect they had on audiences ranging from African American high schools, to Muslim community centers, to Jewish Hillel houses and beyond. They felt as if they had built bridges between communities and fostered cross-cultural understanding that wasn’t previously there. Overall, Christie and I left feeling educated about Israeli society and Ethiopian Jewry, and inspired to continue our mission; using The Last Survivor as a way to engage communities in local philanthropic action. Not to mention, we also made some great new friends.
I cannot sum up this blog post without mentioning that Monday evening, we continued to learn more about Ethiopia. Christie and I attended a screening at Tribeca Cinemas hosted by the Joint Distribution Committee, of a short documentary called Making the Crooked Straight. This film highlights the incredible work of Dr. Rick Hodes, a doctor from Long Island who has spent the last 20 years helping the sickest and most destitute people living in Ethiopia. I highly recommend this film, which is airing on HBO and HBO on demand over the next month.
So…it has been an incredible week thus far. I have learned a lot and realized once again that there is no shortage of good causes to support in this world.
Over and out,