Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom (Wikimedia Commons)
Rabbi Dr. Sharon Shalom first learned about Israel as a young child living in a small Ethiopian village. At the age of eight, Rabbi Dr. Shalom and his family set forth on a difficult and dangerous exodus from Ethiopia, making it to a refugee camp in Sudan. Rescued by Mossad agents during the covert Operation Moses, Rabbi Dr. Shalom was sent to Israel, apart from his family. He grew up in an orphanage in Afula, where he was eventually reunited with his family, whom he believed to have died in Sudan. This is the story Rabbi Dr. Shalom shared with Akiva students during his recent visit to Nashville. Rabbi Dr. Shalom, now a professor at Bar-Ilan University, and the leader of a community in Kiryat Gat shared the account of his arduous journey, his experiences as an Ethiopian Jew in Israel, and his mission to unify Jewry worldwide.
Rabbi Dr. Shalom with Akiva students
When asked why he shares his story all over the world, Rabbi Dr. Shalom clarified that he does not believe his experience is his story, “but rather a collective memory of the Jewish people.” Rabbi Dr. Shalom explained, “In Judaism there is a distinction between history and zikaron/memory. We must keep this in our collective memory because it’s something all of us can identify within our own way.”
For Rabbi Dr. Shalom, his experience is the experience of all Jewish people, in our past, present, and future. He explained to students that “we have survived, as a people, because of our solidarity. Without focusing on what's on the outside, and recognizing what’s on the inside, we have been able to survive in spite of everyone and everything that has sought to destroy us.” Fourth-grader, Meital Kullock, was deeply affected by Rabbi Dr. Shalom’s message, remarking, “I was intrigued because he spoke about lots of things including loss, gain, worry, and learning.” Meital appreciated Rabbi Dr. Shalom’s exhortation that we can never give up, adding, “In the end, I was left in awe and I hope to never forget when he said ‘Go, go, and never stop going forward.’”
Akiva’s resident shlichim, Batya and Nechemya Rosenfeld, were instrumental in bringing Rabbi Dr. Shalom to Nashville. Batya Rosenfeld believed that “For a school as diverse and welcoming as Akiva, it is important for students to understand the depth of diversity in the global Jewish community, and within Israel.” Nechemya Rosenfeld added that “Rabbi Dr. Shalom presented a totally different life experience than students had ever heard. His unique perspective, and the immense gratitude he has for the State of Israel, was truly inspiring for students.”
To learn more about the incredible Jewish-Ethiopian experience and Operation Moses, check out Netflix’s Red Sea Diving Resort, in which Rabbi Dr. Shalom advised filmmakers on the events of the rescue, or read Rabbi Dr. Shalom’s book From Sinai to Ethiopia.