1.23 Baruch Tegegne (1944)


On this day, 1944, Baruch Tegegne (R), key activist for Ethiopian Jews, is born. After migrating out of the country at a young age and moving to Israel, he returned to aid the Jews in his homeland following the years of the Ethiopian Civil War. He later helped lead large-scale migration efforts out of the country, which was subject to Derg rule and totalitarian, anti-religious policies in the 1970s. His collaboration with worldwide Jewish organizations ensured the safety of Ethiopia’s remaining and relocated Jewish communities.

Ethiopian Jews, collectively known as Beta Israel, historically congregated in small-scale Jewish villages rather than large populations. Tegegne was born in one of these small villages, which contained no more than 200 families. In 1955, at age 11, he and his family illegally migrated to Israel, which the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie had strictly forbidden. However, in 1964, he returned to Ethiopia, creating a communal farm on which he and other Jews could work. This placed Tegegne in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Ethiopian civil war broke out in 1974. The Derg seized power over Emperor Selassie and enacted their own anti-religious, anti-Israel policies that showed clear hostility toward Ethiopian Jews.

Tegegne was able to escape Ethiopia as a refugee in 1975, going from Sudan to Nigeria before reaching Israel in 1976. However, other Beta Israel were not nearly as lucky. Tegegne then made it his mission to aid other Jews in fleeing their oppressors while also working for several Israeli organizations, including the Israel Defense Forces and Mossad. He organized a protest march through Jerusalem in 1977 that earned him national recognition. He also gained support from the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, as well as the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, before leading a mass migration effort out of Ethiopia starting in 1984. The mass Aliyah of 1984-1985, referred to as Operation Moses then led to consecutive Aliyahs – particularly in March of 1985 (Joshua), 1991 (Solomon), and most recently Operation Rock at the end of 2020. Sadly, Baruch Tegegne passed away in 2010 after a lifetime of advocating for Beta Israel freedom, both within the country and around the world.

We acknowledge and appreciate @blackjewishmagic for their efforts to shine a light on Baruch’s story.

This post was written by @madelynilana, whose dedication to preserving Jewish history continues to enlighten and inspire.