By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent
In 1984, when he was five years old, he and his seven siblings and parents traveled barefoot for eight weeks at night to make “Aliyah,” the return to the Holy Land.
Like most Jewish families, returning to the land of Israel, or more specifically, Jerusalem, because Ethiopian Jews didn’t know anything about Israel, was a recurring theme in Sahalo’s families’ prayers. His family had to travel at night because the Ethiopian government would not allow Jews to leave the country.
“We had to sell our entire property in order to pay enough money to pay the guide who led us to the border of Sudan,” shared Sahalo, who recently was honored at a “Friends of the Israeli Defense Force” (FIDF) gala at Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Synagogue.
The FIDF initiates and helps support educational, social, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. The FIDF also supports the families of fallen soldiers.
“It was a very long and dangerous journey. We had to deal with robbers, hunger during the day, the animals and the coldness of the desert during the night,” he continued. “Because of bad hygiene and the physical obstacles of the journey and without any medical supplies, a lot of people got sick and died.”
One of those people who died was his 23-year-old sister.
The rest of the Sahalo family finally made it to the Red Cross refugees’ camp, where they stayed a few months before being flown to Israel. Finally in their homeland, they stayed in an absorption center in a Jerusalem neighborhood and later moved to their own apartment a mere six months later.
Sahalo spent the rest of his childhood in Jerusalem and later enlisted after high school with the Israeli Defense Force, where he served in a paratrooper’s combat unit for four years and now serves as a lieutenant.
“I felt very accomplished, having come from Ethiopia, and achieved my status in the Israeli Defense Force, which demonstrated to the youth of my community, as well as my family, the possibilities and contributions that we can make in this country,” said Sahalo, noting that he will soon apply for foreign ministry diplomatic training.
The young man also inspires Manuel Lazerov, Committee Chairman for Outreach to the Christian Community for the Baltimore Chapter of the FIDF. Lazerov has chosen to be a member of the FIDF, he says, because he has a heart for Israel. He belongs to the Modern Orthodox Movement in America (called the Religious Zionists in Israel). The Religious Zionists now comprise the majority of the officer corps and a large portion of the elite combat units in Israel.
“The Land is as important to us as our faith,” Lazerov shares, explaining his deep-seated allegiance to Israel. Along the way, he has learned that many Christians also have a heart for the famed biblical land that is a part of their Christian faith.
In fact, the Old Testament relates three significant times of “Aliyah” which served as the inspiration for Sahalo’s family’s journey.
The first is when the patriarch Abraham came to Canaan with his family and herdsman in approximately 2000 B.C. as noted in Genesis 13.
Later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, went down to Egypt with his family (Genesis 42-50), and after four centuries there, the Israelites went back to Canaan (“The Promised Land”) under Moses and more specifically, Joshua (Exodus – Joshua).
A few decades after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people, approximately 50,000 Jews returned to Israel following the Cyrus Declaration from 538 B.C. The Jewish priestly scribe Ezra led the Jewish exiles living in Babylon to their home city of Jerusalem.
Centuries later and after migrations from several other countries, a massive airlift, known as Operation Moses, began to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel during Nov. 18, 1985 through Jan. 5, 1986. During those six weeks, some 6,500–8,000 Ethiopian Jews were flown from Sudan to Israel.
An estimated 2,000–4,000 Jews died en route to Sudan or in Sudanese refugee camps.
In 1991, Operation Solomon was launched to bring the Beta Israel Jews of Ethiopia. In one day, May 24, 34 aircraft landed at Addis Ababa and brought 14,325 Jews from Ethiopia to Israel.
Since that time, Ethiopian Jews have continued to immigrate to Israel bringing the number of Ethiopian-Israelis today to over 100,000.
Those who migrate are welcomed into society and like all Israelis who graduate high school, eventually serve in the IDF, which Lazerov describes as “the Red Cross on steroids,” in that it provides educational scholarships, recreational facilities on army bases and assistance to families of soldiers, which is a much broader mandate than that of the Red Cross.
Lazerov works to help develop support for these soldiers, recognizing that as they are nurtured, so is the country nurtured.
In his role, he effectively expanded the outreach also to include Christian residents of Israel who have served in the IDF. He is beginning an effort to fill scholarships at evangelical institutions of higher learning in the United States, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He also envisions securing meaningful internships for Christians in Israel.
Moreover, he says it is his goal to forge even stronger links between the Christian community (adhering to Spiritual Gospel) and the IDF, than already exists through biblical attachment and a shared attachment to Western values.
“The scholarship program is only part of what I hope to make a national effort, which, hopefully, will also be accomplished through the media, Christian tourism, in having churches adopting IDF units and through efforts on Christian campuses,” he explains.
If you or someone you know is interested in benefiting from this scholarship program, contact Lazerov by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (410) 952-3331.
CUTLINE: Manuel Lazerov, committee chairman for Outreach to the Christian Community for the Baltimore Chapter of the Friends of the Israeli Defense Force ( FIDF) with Daniel Sahalo.