Cry of the Giraffe

by | May 24, 2012 | Book Reviews

Cry of the Giraffe is a novel about an Ethiopian Jewish (Beta Israel) family written primarily for young adults. Older adults, however, will find it to be a most rewarding read. The author, Judie Oren, is a journalist who risked her life rescuing an Ethiopian “orphan of circumstance,” as children separated from their loved ones are dubbed. The story begins with 13-year-old Wuditu and her family, under increasing dangers from the Marxist dictator, Mengistu and their Jew-hating neighbors, attempting an arduous trek to Sudan in anticipation of transport to Israel.

Labeled “felasha” or outcast because of their Jewish faith, the family survived bombing enroute and narrowly escaped the fate of more than 4,000 refugees who perished during the trip. Operation Moses, a covert maneuver that managed to transport more than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1984/1985, until Arab countries pressured Sudan to halt the airlift, rescued all of Wuditu’s family—except Wuditu herself. She was rounded up with scores of others and returned to the Ethiopian border. What follows is Wuditu’s story of humiliation, fear and despair as she struggles to conceal her identity as Jew in order to survive, eaking out a bare subsistence in virtual slavery.

Wuditu inherited her long delicate neck from her mother; children would tease her and call her the girl with a neck like a giraffe. “Whatever happens,” her mother told her, “remember the giraffe—she has a long neck and she’s beautiful. Even when she’s sad or frightened, she holds her head up and she doesn’t cry—not even when life seems too hard to bear.” Wuditu would recall these words. Beaten, raped, starved, enslaved and deathly ill, she dreamed of reunion with her family and continued to hope for a way of reaching them.

At the end, literally at death’s door, about to be stoned to death for being a Jew, she is “saved” by the author. Rescued, and miraculously brought to Israel as part of Operation Solomon which amazingly airlifted 14,000 Beta Israel to Israel in one weekend in 1991. Written mostly in the first person through Wuditu’s eyes, Cry of the Giraffe, based on real events, mirrors the exodus of thousands of Ethiopian Jews.

By: Hal Sacks