In honor of the upcoming event, ‘Breakthrough Leadership – the Life of Baruch Tegegne z”l’ at the Beit Hatfutsot, Museum of the Jewish People, I would like to share some personal thought.
In the early 90’s I was a teenager sitting in synagogue Saturday morning when a black mother and daughter entered the women’s gallery while and a few moments later a black father and twin boys entered the men’s section. I watched my mother quickly go over to say hello and signaled me to do the same to the father. This chance meeting led to an ongoing relationship between the Ethiopian Jewish community and our family. My mother invited them for lunch and we quickly discovered that there were hundreds of Jewish Ethiopian families brought by the JIAS to live in Montreal, Canada and money was earmarked for their integration into the Jewish community. As I sat and listened to my mother discuss with many of the families we discovered that the Jewish community as a whole did very little to welcome them in. My mom used whatever free time she had available to help ameliorate the situation. In time the community made effort to open up. As time progressed we came to know many of the families and in many ways they became like family.
One of the people that I came to know was Baruch. He was a quiet, somewhat mysterious and well dressed. When he talked about the past, there was always mention of well known leaders, heads of state, his personal trek from Ethiopia to Israel by foot and social protests. As I continue to study the history of Nelson Mandela and apartheid, black civil rights movement and the American Civil War I am slowly beginning to understand the unique role that Baruch played in helping Ethiopian Jewry achieve recognition in modern Israel.
In the 1990’s blacks had rights and the Ethiopian community integrated fully into the broader Montreal community which is known as “Canada’s Cultural Capital”. But Baruch’s story is a bit different. In the 70’s Baruch was a lone voice in Jerusalem advocating black rights at a time of apartheid in South Africa and social unrest in America. Baruch’s early years in Israel was at a time when there were no more than a few hundred Ethiopian people in all of Israel. Yet Baruch’s kind demeanor and sweet voice found the ear of a few individuals who saw a moral responsibility to fulfill our nations Law of Return granting every Jew in the world the right to settle in Israel. It was the lone decision of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi who ruled following the Radbaz, that the Beta Israel were from the Tribe of Dan and confirmed the Jewish identity of the community. The Israeli government knew of the Ethiopian desire to immigrate since the early 1960’s but little was done. Again it was individuals like Dr. Graenum Berger who founded the American Association for Ethiopian Jews in the early 1970’s who kept the issue alive and relevant. Although Baruch, Dr. Berger, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and my mom witnessed the great miracles during Operation Moses and Solomon, the struggle continues today for social equality. May we merit in our days to respect and elevate the individual as John F. Kennedy once said, ‘Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.’ יהי זכרו ברוך
A Circle To Close..A Center To Build – A brief look at Baruch’s activities in Israel in the last years of his life.