As I was walking through the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I heard singing that reminded me of the streets of Jerusalem. I walked through a big wooden door painted blue and white, that opened up to a big yard, and passed by a big sign that read “Mikvah” (Jewish ritual bath). I continued to walk through the yard, as the voices got stronger until the voices enveloped me and drew me in. The voices came from a group of Jewish teenagers. Their voices were so pure and angelic and as they sang, they swayed back and forth and tears rolled down their gentle faces. They repeated over and over the verse from Psalms 137, 5: “If I forget you, Oh Jerusalem, may my right hand cease to function.” The yearning for the return to Jerusalem was so clear in their voices, during that moment and throughout my week-long visit with the Jewish community in Ethiopia. One girl stood out amongst the others in the group. She had a look of innocence and warmth in her young face of no more than 17-years-old. A large Jewish star hung from her neck. And as she sung the words with tears in her eyes, a gentle smile formed on her lips.
Sometimes I do a vegetarian diet and I last for about three days. Just to see her face after eating chicken for the first time in nine years was incredible! We sat in a tiny mud hut, the family’s one-room hut. Some of us sat on stools and the others on the bed. Meskerem recited the blessing aloud and we all answered Amen and ate from the dish. (I only tasted a little bit to allow them to enjoy). To sit in the small room, and see the “miseerut nefesh” or dedication of these Ethiopian Jews, not to eat meat in nine years, the singing and longing they have to immigrate to Israel are beyond words. I promised Meskerem that I would not forget about her. And as I think back to her and her friends, their sweet voices cannot escape my mind and I ask myself, when will we be able to finally bring them to their homeland, Israel?