Mazel Tov! I am helping my daughter plan her wedding in Israel. She has lived in Israel since she went on a gap year and she is surrounded by many of her closest friends from Baltimore who, like her, made aliyah, served in the IDF, attended university and established their lives in the Jewish state. She is marrying a man who is not from Baltimore, but is an American Israeli who followed the same path. As a mother, I am so filled with joy and anticipation. As an educator, I can’t help but reflect on what brought us to this day.
As I was scrolling through Israeli wedding websites for inspiration, I came across an incredible story. In 1991, Mossad agents arrived in Ethiopia to facilitate the airlift of Ethiopian Jewish children to Israel. As the boy cried for his parents, a Mossad agent hugged and comforted him. That kindness sparked a lifelong friendship, and that little boy became the first Ethiopian rabbi ordained in Israel. And in an “only in Israel” story, Rabbi Shalom performed the wedding ceremony for the Mossad agent’s grown son.
What do you have to know to understand this story? You have to know that the Jewish people have longed for Israel no matter where we wandered — Egypt, Europe or Ethiopia. You have to know that Jews are part of a great nation and that when one of us celebrates, we all celebrate, and when one of us is sad, we are all sad. And when one Jew is suffering, no matter the distance, another Jew is scheming of saving him. You have to feel that G-d has given us a land so precious that we have children who are willing to die protecting it. You have to recognize that a tough Mossad agent, an Ethiopian immigrant, a groom and a Torah scholar are all serving Israel and the Jewish people — and there could in fact be one person who plays all of those roles at once!
Too few of our children know and feel these deep truths connected to Israel. Rather, they see news of riots and demonstrations, fires and rockets. They have not discussed Israel at the dinner table. Their parents are focusing on the challenges, climate and realities of our home in America to the exclusion of our homeland in Israel. And then these children might wait years only to join a Birthright trip and have to make sense of what they are experiencing when critical early learning periods have passed. And then it just may be too late to be an articulate advocate for our epic story.
I am proud that my daughter represents American Jews next to the Mossad agent, the Ethiopian immigrant and all of the other magnificent members of Israeli society. I am proud that she has grabbed on to this piece of her Jewish identity. I can’t wait to dance under the stars in a never-ending circle. As a Jewish people, our story continues. Celebrate with us!
Amian Frost Kelemer is the chief operating officer at the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education.