First Seder in the Homeland
Falash Mura celebrate Pesach in Israel
The little girls stood on stage holding up a child's painting of the Ten Commandments, quietly but confidently singing "Who Knows One," the traditional Passover song about Jewish icons such as the Five Books of Moses, the Four Matriarchs, the Three Patriarchs, the two Tablets that Moses brought from Mount Sinai, and the One-ness of God.
It could have been a scene from any number of school Passover presentations, but these children were new immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia, demonstrating their Jewish knowledge for family members who, with them, are about to celebrate their first Passover in Israel.
On the first night of Pesach, an estimated 5,500 members of the "Falash Mura," the extended family members of Ethiopia's Jewish community, will held Seders together in absorption centers throughout Israel, sponsored by The Jewish Agency and by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In groups, they celebrated both Passover and their new lives in Israel, for the first time using a Hebrew Haggadah – and, in many cases, experiencing their very first Seder.
To prepare, the olim (immigrants to Israel) held Model Seders in each absorption center, including the one in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevaseret Zion. With its apartment units stretching out for blocks – punctuated by playgrounds and communal buildings such as a library and auditorium – the Mevaseret Zion absorption complex is by far the largest of The Jewish Agency's 22 such centers, including 16 that cater specifically to new olim from Ethiopia.
Among the dignitaries who greeted the immigrants were Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews; Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel; Lieutenant Colonel Zion Shankur, the highest-ranking Ethiopian in the Israel Defense Forces; Ambassador Belaynesh Zevadia, Israel's first Ethiopia-born ambassador; and prominent Ethiopian-Israeli singer-songwriter Maski Shabiro, who entertained the group of approximately 100 immigrants with a heartfelt rendition of an Ethiopian folksong.
In fluent Hebrew accented heavily in Russian, Sharansky related his memories of making a Seder while imprisoned in Siberia, using water instead of wine, and bread instead of matzah ("because what can you do"), and reciting as much of the Haggadah as he could from memory. Later, after his release and his own immigration to Israel, he flew to Ethiopia to escort a group of Jews there on their own flight home.
"I didn't understand a word anyone said," he remembered, "but when the pilot announced that we were over Jerusalem, everyone cried 'Yerusalem! Yerusalem!' and I realized I was part of a modern-day exodus, the return of Jews from every direction – toward Jerusalem."