One of the most incredible, inspiring stories from the first day of AIPAC Policy Conference was the story of MK Shlomo Molla – once a lost Ethiopian boy walking barefoot through the desert to Sudan, and today, a member of the Israeli parliament.
This is his story, and these are his words.
Shlomo Molla grew up in a small village in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Jewish community is a close-knit community that traces its roots back 2,500 years. The 1974 revolution in Ethiopia brought the Communists to power, and practicing Judaism was banned in Ethiopia.
Shlomo heard rumors of a miracle – a modern Jewish state that would welcome immigrant Jews. So 16 year old Shlomo set up with a group of friends to cross the desert on foot to Israel – barefoot, and with no food.
They walked in the desert for more than 100 miles, and were finally stopped on the border with Sudan, and thrown in jail. Shlomo feared he would never see Israel.
Months later, he was released and taken to a Sudanese refugee camp, with no money or food. Worrying that he would simply starve in that camp, one night a man came in the night, put the Jews on trucks, and drove off into the night. When the trucks stopped, they saw paratroopers. Israeli paratroopers, come to rescue them. The boys were led into planes, with the paratroopers singing “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” as they airlifted them to Israel.
This was part of the first wave of the successful decade-long mission to bring all Ethiopian Jews to Israel. This story is the story of an entire community. A community that faced a 780 kilometer journey. Today, 80,000 Ethiopians have come to Israel and made their dreams a reality. We rarely hear about the more than 4,000 jews who died in the desert, trying to reach Israel.
But Shlomo’s journey was just beginning.
He knew zero Hebrew and had zero education. He went to high school, then college, then became an IDF officer. Eventually, he went to work at an absorption center, helping other immigrants adjust to life in Israel.
Ariel Sharon later tapped him to run for the Knesset in his new Kadima party.
The Knesset is a microcosm of Israel’s diverse society – which includes 3 million immigrants from 90 different countries. Knesset’s 120 members include more than 18 from the former Soviet Union, three or four Druze, native Israelis, Jews from Morocco and Tunisia, and many others. They are part of the millions of immigrants who believe in the Zionist dream.
In fact, Shlomo’s rescue was led by Colonel Yossi Peled, who survived the Holocaust, came to Israel in 1948, and later became one of Israel’s greatest generals. And he went to Sudan in the middle of the night to save other Jewish refugees fleeing to Israel in their turn.
Today both Shlomo Molla and Yossi Peled serve in the Knesset together, and both embody the pioneer spirit that has made both the United States and Israel great.