• Isaac Herzog at the state memorial service in memory of Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Haim Zach / GPO

Saving an Entire World

Tal Hartuv - 27 December 2022

In the Jewish world, Takele Mekonen is a living legend. Growing up in Ethiopia, Takele was very influenced by his grandfather who was chief rabbi. His grandfather taught him the Talmudic principle that saving one person is akin to saving an entire world. Daily they prayed together for God to bring the Ethiopian Jewish community home to Jerusalem. But given the civil war which was inflaming the country, returning to Jerusalem seemed like nothing but a dream.

“In the Jewish world, Takele Mekonen is a living legend”

Takele Mekonen CEO at Tech-Career| Photo: tech-career.com

The prayers struck his soul. Not being in Israel became unbearable for the young teenager. So as kids tend to do, he decided on impulse to make a change; right then and there. Takele gathered twenty friends and the boys set off in the middle of the night from Ethiopia to walk to Jerusalem!

But dreams clouded the reality. What he thought would be an easy journey filled with prayer and hope, turned into a trek through a dangerous jungle where stones tore their feet in the day and wild animals harassed them at night.

Fourteen days later, the shade of the jungle disappeared as it suddenly opened out to a scorching desert. They dragged themselves through the fine sand with no food and little water. After a total of 31 days and 371 miles, they finally reached a refugee camp in South Sudan.

“Takele knew by saving a life he could save an entire world”

But instead of shelter, there was death. Hundreds were dying of malaria and dysentery. The boys knew that if they stayed, Death would come for them too. The words of his grandfather resounded in his soul. Takele knew by saving a life he could save an entire world. He could not possibly leave without taking other Jewish people out of the camp. In order to find his people among the thousands, one Shabbat, the boys went from tent to tent. People who were sitting outside their tents in front of a fire could not be Jewish; Jews don’t light a fire on Shabbat.

After finding his fellow Jews, they told him that Mossad agents had been in the camp months ago, but hadn’t returned. Many were so desperate they were making plans to return to Ethiopia. Takele dissuaded them. Jews don’t give up on each other, he told them. The Mossad will surely be back.

And he was right. Returning to the camp, they sought out Takele and told him to prepare thirty people to leave within a month. Takele was a man with a mission. His own return home would have to wait.

When the time came, Takele traveled at night with the group through dangerous terrain. At every check point he was beaten and detained. Only a wad of Mossad money could bribe the guards to let the group pass. Once the group was safe, Takele turned back to the camp. He knew it was his task to save other lives as well.

Overall, and over many months, Takele managed to lead twenty trips and nine hundred Jews into the hands of the Mossad who brought the Ethiopian Jews eventually to Jerusalem. He was beaten several times for his brothers. Only when he was finally warned that the beatings were insufficient and that the Sudanese police were out to kill him, Takele agreed to also go to the Land of his people. When the plane touched down in Israel, he felt the prayers of his grandfather wash over him; He had done his job. Takele was finally home.

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