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January 03, 1992 - Image 94

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-01-03

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The Salo family in Jerusalem.

Family Reunion

Operation Solomon ended a seven-year
separation for an Israeli soldier and his
Ethiopian family.


even years ago, Mamou
Salo made the heart-
wrenching decision to
tell his son to leave Ethiopia.
He knew that Beni, then 16,
would have to make a
dangerous trek through
Ethiopia to the Sudan before
he could be taken to Israel.
He also knew that if Beni
stayed in Ethiopia he would
be inducted into the army.
The Salos lived in the Gondar
region where the violence was
quickly escalating.
With a few personal posses-
sions, Beni set out on foot on
what became a 17-day-
journey. They were days of ex-
haustion, terror and hunger.
And yet Beni says that he was
lucky. "It took most people
months to get to Israel. Many
never even survived." When
Beni arrived in Israel he
spent his first few weeks
recovering in an Israeli



hospital before moving to an
absorption center in the
northern town of Safed.
The absorption center was
packed with Ethiopian
Jewish families who helped
ease Beni's misery over the
separation from his family.
But nothing — then or during
the ensuing years when he
lived at a Youth Aliyah
village — filled the void.
He suffered physically and
emotionally and quietly ad-
mits to a nagging unhap-
piness that never left him.
Despite this, and after
graduating from high school,
he went on to distinguish
himself in the army's elite
paratroop unit.
On May 24, Beni Salo's per-
sonal fortunes took a
dramatic turn. He was with
his army unit, leaning back
in a chair watching television
during a rest period. The

Ethiopian operation had been
kept under wraps; there was
no reason to expect any new
immigration miracles. So
when an airplane came on
the screen with droves of
Ethiopian Jews boarding in
Addis Ababa for a flight to
Israel, Beni watched in

"Our fears are
gone and our
family is together
at last."

stunned silence. When he saw
his uncle hobble up the
plane's steps, he bolted out of
his chair.
In a dazed shock he acted
quickly, calling an aunt in
Jerusalem to ask her to trace
the uncle he had just seen on
the news clip. When Beni's
aunt called back, she told him
that she hadn't tracked down
his uncle but she had Beni's

entire immediate family, all
safely in Jerusalem.
The next day the army
granted Beni leave to visit his
family. He says, "On the bus
I was so nervous that my
stomach was churning. I
couldn't believe it. I mean, I
really didn't believe that I'd
be seeing my family."
He found his family at a
Jerusalem hotel, which is
now serving as an absorption
center. When a relative
answered a light knock on the
door, they saw an athletic-
looking soldier in army
fatigues, standing speechless-
ly, staring at them. A long
and curious silence was
broken when the visitor final-
ly blurted out, "I'm Beni."

For all of the Salos, that
greeting was the beginning of
a new stage in the family
history. Beni's parents and

siblings have regained a son
and brother as well as a guide
for their new lives. Eager to
introduce them to Israeli
culture and traditions, Beni
says, "They're curious about
life here and I keep telling
them that the life is good and
the country is beautiful."
Mamou, both farmer and
school administrator in his
Ethiopian village, has
already prepared an agenda
which includes learning
Hebrew and then moving
anywhere he can find a job.
But Beni's mother is savoring
the present and counting her
Looking lovingly at Beni,
and then raising her arms
toward the sky, she says, "All
that matters is that we're in
Israel. Our fears are gone and
our family is together at
UJA Press Service

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