Adisa Ayaso arrived in Israel in January 1984, but her family’s aliyah wasn’t the typical airplane flight of so many modern-day Jews. Ayaso, now 33, was born in the village of Gedlia Murim in Ethiopia. She was 3 when her family began the 1,000-mile trek across the mountains of Ethiopia to reach Sudan, where they could be airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses. Her father had been an affluent farmer, and her mother was pregnant. In fact, her younger brother was born in the Sudan desert. “My father took upon himself the responsibility for 60 other people who trusted him to get them to our homeland in Israel,” says Ayaso.
Now married with a child and an associate’s degree in criminal justice from ASA College in New York City, Ayaso will tell her story at a variety of events in Tucson from Jan. 27 to 30. A resident of Kiryat Malachi, she’s visiting as part of the Partnership2Gether Hof Ashkelon-Kiryat Malachi-Seattle-Tucson-Phoenix connection.
Ayaso’s story is one of courage, persistence and starvation. “We walked for three months on foot in the mountains and valleys of Ethiopia and the Sudan desert, where we lost 11 siblings and family members along the way,” says Ayaso.
Operation Moses, Israel’s secret airlift program, saved around 8,000 Ethiopian Jews in 1984-85. The mass exodus of Jews from Ethiopia to Israel began during the 1980s under the Marxist dictatorship that murdered thousands of African Jews and forbade them to practice Judaism. In addition, extreme famine, the highest infant mortality rate in the world, and the desire to reunite with Zion compelled Ethiopian Jews to leave their country. Subsequent airlifts included Operations Joshua and Solomon. More than 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel today.
The transition from a subsistence economy to a more industrialized Israeli society has been difficult for many of the Ethiopian Jewish transplants. Ayaso now works mainly with Ethiopian at-risk youth in Kiryat Malachi. “Most of the effort is to find youth wandering the streets, provide a listening ear and professional help if necessary,” she told the AJP. “The secret of the process is that we come to their territory, an environment where they feel comfortable and don’t feel judged. In most cases, the youth want help. After communicating with them and getting to know them and their situation, we are there for them.”
In Tucson, public events featuring Ayaso will include a Jewish Federation-Northwest Lunch and Learn on Tuesday, Jan. 28 at noon; a Congregation Anshei Israel adult education class as part of its “Wisdom of Jewish Tucson” program on Wednesday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.; and a Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Young Leadership happy hour on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at Vero Amore, Plaza Palomino at Swan and Ft. Lowell Roads. For more information, contact Jennifer Ferrell at 577-9393, ext. 133, or [email protected] To RSVP for the happy hour, contact Sarah Langert at 577-9393, ext. 116, or [email protected]