"W hy do you have tears in your eyes?” my student asked, in Hebrew.

“Because I remember that day, that day you came on aliyah.”

“I don’t remember it,” she laughed, “because I was only a few months old. But my parents do, of course. It was the first time they had ever been on an airplane. It was the first time they had ever seen an airplane.”

I was too emotional to remind her to speak not in Hebrew, but in English, as I usually do in the course I give on English for Professional Purposes to Dental Hygiene students.

I’ve been giving this course at the Faculty of Dental Medicine of the Hebrew University at Ein Kerem in Jerusalem for more than 15 years. Each group of students is an interesting cultural mix of several different nationalities and religions. As part of the “getting to know you” lesson, and also to see their level of understanding a request for basic information about themselves, the first homework assignment is a form each student fills in with their name, address, date, and place of birth, and also date of aliyah, where appropriate. In each group, there are students born in Ethiopia, and I generally look over their forms, see which year they arrived, and make a mental note of how long they’ve been in Israel.

Azmera was the first student who had filled in the exact date of her aliyah: May 24, 1991. I was instantly transported back to those two days — May 24–25, 1991 — when in total secrecy and silence, 14,500 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and brought to Israel.

Less than a week earlier, the Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Mariam fled the country after the rebels’ military success, and worries were being voiced in Israel about the fate of the many thousands of Jews trapped there. Then, literally overnight, as if in a dream, we woke to find that nearly all of those thousands of Jews had been transported to Israel, on eagles’ wings, as the headline in Yedioth Ahronoth termed it.

We wondered, that Shabbos, why there was so much aircraft noise, and thought the worst: that with Syria taking over Lebanon, Israel was on “red alert.” Little did we think of the real, miraculous reason: 14,500 Jews entering Israel in 33 hours. As a colleague put it when we looked at the photo supplements in the newspapers the next day, “Just think, probably not since the crossing of the Jordan by Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, have so many Jews come into Eretz Yisrael in one day.” Quite a thought. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 542)