The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot – The Jews of Ethiopia and the exhibition “Operation Moses: Thirty Years After”

January 20, 2019

The history of the Jews of Ethiopia dates back to the period prior to the Mishna and Talmud and is based on the Bible in the Ge’ez language. The center of religious life was the synagogue, where the Jews of Ethiopia spent most of the time on Sabbaths and festivals, and where in addition to prayers they ate their meals in common, sang and danced.  Their religious leaders, the priests, considered themselves as descendants of Aaron. Festivals were determined according to a calendar close to the Jewish calendar.

The establishment of the State of Israel brought about great excitement. In 1973 Rabbi Obadiah declared the Jews of Ethiopia as descendants of the tribe of Dan and called for their redemption. They were flown to Israel in two secret airlifts. Operation Moses  (1983-1985) and Operation Solomon (May 1991) brought nearly 40,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel during this period.

The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot was the only institution that photographed and documented this Aliya and the absorption of Ethiopian Jewry in Israel during the period of 1984 – 1991. Doron Bacher, the Museum’s house photographer at the time, began photographing the Jews in Ethiopia in April 1984. Over 10,000 stills and slides were added to Beit Hatfutsot’s archives.

Beit Hatfutsot, together with photographer Doron Bacher and film director Orly Malessa, joined in producing original video exhibition examining what transpired to the community over the last 30 years.

The media exhibition “Operation Moses: 30 Years After” presents the story of the absorption of Ethiopian individuals and families in Israel, from Operation Moses to the present. The exhibition provides the stage of relating the stories of ten families documented in Beit Hatfutsot’s photos. It examines their lives from the time they were photographed until the present, using texts and short videos; referring to their struggles with displacement, emigration and absorption, and their reception by Israeli society.  The exhibition videos are presented in a unique theater-in-the-round auditorium, enhancing the visitor’s experience.

The curator of the exhibition, director and producer Orly Malessa, immigrated to Israel with her family during Operation Moses. Malessa holds a degree from Ben Gurion University and has produced and directed several feature films and documentaries.

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by Guest blogger – Grace Rapkin

North American Marketing and Sales Manager

Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot