Sunday Schools’ outing to Federation provides living history lesson

by | Oct 18, 2012 | Other News

The number of hands thrust into the air at the end of Maly Jackson’s presentation about her childhood escape from Ethiopia was testimony to the power of her story.

A dozen of the Sunday School students visiting the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater wanted to ask Jackson questions, to find out more about her dangerous trek across the desert to Sudanese refugee camps at age seven, her earliest memories as a Jewish Ethiopian, and her life after she and her family moved to Israel.

Students and adults from synagogues that included Temple Emanuel, Temple Israel and Kempsville Conservative Synagogue -Kehillat Bet Hamidrash, came to the Sandler Family Campus on Oct. 7 to hear Jackson. During the 90-minute presentation, the more than 65 audience members also were treated to firsthand accounts from Dr. Mark Lipton and UJFT community development specialist Carolyn Amacher. Both lived in Israel at the time that Jackson and her family were secretly airlifted from Sudan and brought to Israel as part of Operation Moses (1984-85), and helped provide shelter and material goods for the new citizens.

Culminating the special Federation- Synagogue Partnership program was a walk through the Leon Art Gallery, where guests could view It Takes a Village: From Gondar to Jerusalem—the Remarkable Journey of Ethiopia’s Jews: A Photographic Retrospective.

The large-scale photographs, as well as the stories they had just heard, made an impact on students and their parents.

“When you hear these very personal stories, it gives you such a different perspective,” says Janet Yue of Temple Emanuel, who accompanied her daughter Sarah to the event. “I think many of us cannot conceptualize a situation like this, so hearing it from Maly really brings it home—the reality of the devastating experiences that Jews have gone through and continue to go through. This has been a valuable lesson for all of these children here—and for all of us adults as well.”

Jackson was both humbled and encouraged by the response of the Sunday School students. An assistant teacher at the Strelitz Early Childhood Center whose children attend Strelitz and the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, Jackson only recently has begun to open up about her experiences.

“It’s still hard to talk about,” she says. “But everyone really seems to listen and be interested. Some students came up after and said they wanted to raise money to help the Jews still in Ethiopia and the ones having a hard time in Israel. One girl even invited me to her bat mitzvah!”

A video of Maly Jackson telling her story will be posted soon on Through generous gifts, the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater allocates funds for pre-Aliyah training for Ethiopian Jews and educational and social integration programs for Ethiopian-Israelis. Donations are accepted online at To find our more, contact Carolyn Amacher at 757-452-3181,

by Laine Mednick Rutherford