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The Heroes Who Saved Ethiopian Jews


The New York-based “My Jewish Learning” interviews Ethiopian-born Israeli film maker Avishai Mekonen (film: 400 Miles To Freedom) about his new project.

When he was 10 years old, filmmaker Avishai Mekonen walked from Ethiopia to Sudan and was eventually taken to Israel. As an adult, he began to wonder how that journey came to be and his research led to his newest project.

Team Ba’chol Lashon (BL): Your first film focused on your own journey to Israel, how does this project differ?

Avishai Mekonen: When I got to Israel as a child, I never really thought about how I got there, I focused all my energy on fitting in in Israel. In becoming an adult and a filmmaker, I have tried to open up the story of Ethiopian Jews to better understand what happened. My first film was about my life and focused only a little on the broader community. This film is not about me but about the big picture about the heroes and the activists who made the exodus happen.

BL: Isn’t the story of the Ethiopian exodus already well known?

Mekonen: The story people usually tell is that the Jews of Ethiopia were rescued by Israel. And that is true in part. But there is a whole part of the story that is not well known, the story of the Ethiopian activists who held onto the dream of going to Jerusalem and made everything happen. Sadly, the usual vision of the Ethiopians is of passive helpless people who needed to rely on Israelis and Americans to save them. The Israelis and Americans were very important to this story but there were many many Ethiopian activists without whom none of this would have happened. They were the opposite of passive, they were heroes.