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Ethiopian Jewry: Timeline of Ethiopian Jewish History

4th Century CE Christianity is introduced into the Axum dynasty in Ethiopia.

7th Century — With the spread of Islam, Ethiopia is isolated from most of the Christian world. The Beta Israel enjoy a period of independence before the power struggles of the middle ages.

9th Century — The earliest apparent reference to the Beta Israel appears in the diary of Eldad Hadani, a merchant and traveler claiming to have been a citizen of an autonomous Jewish state in eastern Africa inhabited by the tribes of Dan, Naftali, Gad, and Asher.

13th Century — The Solomonic dynasty (which claims descent from Solomon and Bathsheba) assumes control. During the next 300 years (1320-1620), intermittent wars are fought between the Christian kings of Ethiopia and those of the Beta Israel, which finally result in the Beta Israel's loss of independence.

16th Century — Rabbi David B. Zimra, known as the Radbaz, issues a legal response in Cairo declaring that "those who come from the land Cush (Ethiopia) are without a doubt the Tribe of Dan..." He confirms that Ethiopian Jews are fully Jewish.

1622 — Christians conquer the Ethiopian Jewish Kingdom following 300 years of warfare. The vanquished Jews are sold as slaves, forced to baptize, and denied the right to own land.

1769 — Scottish explorer James Bruce awakens the western world to the existence of the Ethiopian Jews in his travels to discover the source of the Nile. He estimates the Jewish population at 100,000.

1855 — Daniel Ben Hamdya, an Ethiopian Jew, independently travels to Jerusalem to meet with rabbis.

1864 — Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer, the Rabbi of Eisenstadt, Germany, publishes a manifesto in the Jewish press calling for the spiritual rescue of Ethiopian Jewry.

1867 — Professor Joseph Halevy is the first European Jew to visit the Beta Israel, subsequently becoming an advocate for the community.

1904 — Jacques Faitlovitch, a student of Professor Joseph Halevy, makes his first trip to Ethiopia to visit the Beta Israel. He commits his life on their behalf and actively tries to reconnect the community with the rest of world Jewry. He establishes the first "pro-Falasha" committees in the United States, Britain, and Palestine (under the control of the Ottoman Empire) and takes the first Ethiopian Jewish students to Europe and to Israel to increase their Jewish education.

1908 — Rabbis of 44 countries proclaim Ethiopian Jews to be authentic Jews.

1935-1941 — The Italian fascist army conquers Ethiopia and meets fierce resistance from the Ethiopian partisans, including the Jews.

1947 — Ethiopia abstains in the United Nations vote for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine.

1955 — Israel's Jewish Agency builds numerous schools and a teachers seminary for the Jews of Ethiopia. Two groups of Ethiopian Jewish students are sent to the Israeli youth village of Kfar Batya to learn Hebrew and other Jewish subjects.

1956 — Israel and Ethiopia establish consular relations.

1958 — Israel sends two public health teams to Ambober in the Gondar Province where most Jews are located.

1961 — Ethiopia and Israel begin full diplomatic relations.

1969 — The American Association for Ethiopian Jews is founded by Dr. Graenum Berger.

1970's — ORT (Organization for the Rýehabilitation and Training) sets up schools, clinics, and vocational training centers in Ethiopia.

1973 — Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi, rules, following the Radbaz, that the Beta Israel are from the tribe of Dan and confirms the Jewish identity of the community.

1974 — Emperor Haile Selassie, ruler of Ethiopia since 1930, is overthrown in a coup. A Marxist regime is established and headed by Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. This begins a wave of violent acts throughout the country, some severely affecting the Jews.

1975 — Agrarian Reform, meant to benefit tenant farmers, including Jews, creates a violent backlash by traditional landowners and much suffering for all of Ethiopia's citizens. Israel, in an attempt to improve relations with Ethiopia and secure freedom for the Beta Israel, renews military assistance to Ethiopia after Somalia besieges it on the southeastern border. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren agrees with the 1973 opinion of Rabbi Yosef. Interior Minister Shlomo Hillel signs an ordinance to accept all Ethiopian Jews officially under the Israeli Law of Return. Ethiopian Jews are granted full citizenship and receive the full rights given to new immigrants.

1976 — Approximately 250 Ethiopians Jews are living in Israel.

1977 — Prime Minister Menachem Begin comes to power in Israel. He requests that Colonel Mariam allow Israel to transport approximately 200 Jews to Israel in an empty Israel military jet returning to Israel from Ethiopia.

1977-1984 — Approximately 8,000 Ethiopian Jews are brought to Israel by covert action, most from 1981-84 as part of Operation Brothers.

1980 — Canadian Association for Ethiopian Jews is founded in Toronto, Canada.

1982 — North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry is founded by Barbara Ribakov Gordon, in New York.

1984 — The massive airlift known as Operation Moses begins on November 18th and ends on January 5, 1985. During those six weeks, some 6,500 Ethiopian Jews are flown from Sudan to Israel. Attempts are made to keep the rescue effort secret, but public disclosure forces an abrupt end. In the end, an estimated 2,000 Jews die en route to Sudan or in Sudanese refugee camps.

1985 — Secret CIA-sonsored airlift brings 494 Jews from Sudan to Israel.

1984-1988 — With the abrupt halting of Operation Joshua in 1985, the Ethiopian Jewish community is split in half, with some 15,000 souls in Israel, and more than 15,000 still stranded in Ethiopia. For the next five years, only very small numbers of Jews reach Israel.

1986 — The United States Congressional Caucus for Ethiopian Jewry is established with over 140 representatives currently listed.

1987 — The Ethiopian leaders in Israel organize an assembly at Binyanei Ha'uma in Jerusalem, where the Israeli public comes together in solidarity for reunification of Ethiopian Jewry. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Absorption Minister Yacov Tsur, Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel, International Human Rights Lawyer Erwin Cotler, and Natan Scharansky participate in the conference.

1988 — The World Union of Jewish Students holds a conference on Ethiopian Jewry in Ashkelon with a closing ceremony at President Herzog's home. Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Pinchas Eliav, makes a formal statement at the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the reunification of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

1989 — Ethiopia and Israel renew diplomatic relations. This creates high hopes among Jewry for the reunification of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.

1990 — Ethiopia's ruler, Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, makes a public statement expressing desire to allow Ethiopian Jews to be reunited with family members in Israel.

1991 — With Eritrean rebels advancing on the capital each day, Colonel Mengistu flees Ethiopia. Israel asks the United States to urge rebels to allow a rescue operation for Ethiopian Jews. On May 24-25, Operation Solomon airlifts 14,324 Jews to Israel aboard thirty-four El Al jets in just over thirty-six hours.

1999 — The first Ethiopian Jew became a doctor.

2012 — Israel appoints its first Ethiopian Jewish ambassador

2012-2013 — Operation Dove’s Wings brings 7,000 Falash Mura to Israel. Pnina Tamano-Shata becomes the first Ethiopian-born woman to serve in the Knesset.

2013 — An Ethiopian-Israeli won the Miss Israel Pageant.

2016 — Israel agrees to allow 10,000 Ethiopian Jews to be absorbed into Israel between 2016 and 2020.  For the first time, wo Ethiopian women are selected to serve as judges.

2018 — Israel’s first male Ethiopian judge, Bialin Elazar, was appointed to Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. The Israeli Air Force’s first Ethiopian pilot completed his training.

2020 —  Pnina Tamano-Shata becomes the first Ethiopian-born woman to serve in the Knesset and the cabinet. She is appointed Minster for Immigration and Integration.

2021 —  Pnina Tamano-Shata demands the state expedite its efforts to bring 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Sources: The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ). Written by the staff of PRIMER—Promoting Research in the Middle East Region. Sources Cited: “From Addis to Jerusalem,” Jewish Agency for Israel, Jerusalem, Israel, 1991. “Reunify Ethiopian Jewry: Top Priority,” World Union of Jewish Students, Jerusalem, Israel, 1989.
Revital Hovel, “Israel Appoints First Male Ethiopian Judge,” Haaretz, (November 24, 2018).|
Judah Ari Gross, “Lt. ‘Yod’ to become first Ethiopian-Israeli air force pilot,” Times of Israel, (December 18, 2018).
Tom Gross, “First female Ethiopian-born and ultra-orthodox Israeli cabinet ministers sworn in, Mideast Dispatch, (May 18, 2020).