Yosef’s Dream – A story about Ethiopian Jews

The Jewish people have a long history of being spread all over the world. Many forget, however, that for many years there was a large contingent of Jews living in Ethiopia. They lived in isolation, not realizing that there were other Jews in the world and often oppressed by their Ethiopian “hosts.”

yosef cover

In Yosef’s Dream, (Sept 1st by Apples and Honey Press)  by Sylvia Rouss with assistance from Ambassador Asher Naim, the stories of “Operation Solomon” and the biblical tale of Joseph and his dreams are combined to remind us all in the power of believing.

Those with hope in God will renew their strength,
they will soar aloft as with eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31)

This story starts in Israel, but quickly cuts back to Yosef’s memories of his time in Ethiopia. He loved his homeland with it’s “tall mountains, flowing rivers and wide plains,” but even though his people had lived their for thousands of years, they were “still seen as strangers, for we were Jewish…and different.”

yosef 1

Yosef goes through his morning and readers can get a sense of what his daily life is like in Ethiopia. His sister bakes injera bread (so delicious if you’ve never tried it!) and also weaves the baskets and makes the pottery that their family sells at the market. They rely on the land for farming and water and Yosef carries food to his father and brother working in the fields.yosef 2

One day, Yosef accidentally falls into a deep hole and cannot climb out. In a folkloric turn, Gazelle comes to him in a dream, encourages him to hold onto her horns, be pulled out, and travel to see far-off places. Hyena interrupts and says that together they will “hide in the shadows and feed off of the scrapes of others.” Suddenly, a giant Eagle sweeps in and tells Yosef to pull himself out. “You can do it if you try. Catch hold of my wings and we will fly to your new home far, far away.” Suddenly, his brother has found him, but Yosef still manages to climb out of the hole himself.yosef 3

Yosef runs to school where he had been told a special visitor would be coming that day. It is Ambassador Asher Naim from Israel. He has come to over them all a home, to a return to the Promised Land. An older boy says that legends tell them one day they will return to Israel on the wings of eagles and Yosef says, “Just like my dream!” This time everyone listens to him and they are reminded of Joseph, the young Hebrew boy who saw the future in his dreams.yosef 4

There are fears that the Ethiopian government will never let them go. Yosef’s family also fears their ability to go as his mother is very pregnant. But over the next weeks, the villagers prepare for the big trip in hopes that it will happen soon. When the word comes that Ethiopia will allow them to leave, it is much like Pharoah allowing the Jews to leave Egypt, “it must be TODAY!”yosef 5

Thirteen years later, the family is in Israel celebrating his younger brother Jacob’s Bar Mitzvah. Jacob mentions Yosef’s dream in his speech – “Yosef’s dream was about making a choice. If we had gone with Gazelle, my family could have traveled to other countries, never settling anywhere. Had we stayed with Hyena, we would still be living as outcasts in Ethiopia. But we chose to fly with Eagle, and after nearly 3000 years of exile we have returned to Israel, our true home.”

I found this book incredibly powerful. There are very few stories that talk about Ethiopian Jews who lived in the diaspora. We don’t think about them as much as a part of the larger Jewish history or general world history. So while this book isn’t technically a non-fiction picture book, I believe that it has an important place in the classroom and home to tell a story that needs to be told. The story is told in an incredibly accessible way and Tamar Blumenfeld’s illustrations hold the whole thing together.

The Jews in Ethiopia were often oppressed by their Ethiopian hosts, called “falashas,” which means strangers, and were blamed for droughts, famines, and illness. Operation Solomon. The Author’s Note at the end tells about the work that Ambassador Naim did in 1991 to fly nearly 14,000 Jews out of Ethiopia and to Israel within a 36 hour period. During the fights, seven children were born, just like Yosef’s brother Jacob.

nfpb16So, as I mentioned, while not technically a non-fiction title, I am including it in the link-up of non-fiction picture books hosted each week by Kid Lit Frenzy. Check out the other books reviewed by the marvelous book blogging community!

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher while at a conference, but all opinions are completely my own. The book will be released September 1st by Apples and Honey Press.

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10 responses

  1. This looks like a powerful story, and all new to me about this particular group. Thanks for sharing so much about it.

    1. I was thrilled to get an early copy. Not sure if I would have bought it without knowing as much about it first. Now I want to sing it’s praises!

    2. Agreed 🙂

      To our older brothers in faith of all colors and cultures we send our love 🙂

  2. annettepimentel | Reply

    I love fiction books that own up to their nonfiction inspiration and content. It sounds like the back matter in this book is really important for the context of the book as a whole.
    Thanks for highlighting a book from a small publisher. I’m pretty sure I never would have heard of it otherwise!

    1. I completely agree with you. I like knowing the backstory for titles in general, but this was definitely born from truth.

  3. I love how his story relates to the story of Joseph and draws attention to this other side of the Jewish experience.

  4. This story is entirely new to me – I known so little about the Jewish experience, particularly outside of Europe, which is really a shame. What a fascinating story, thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. I think most people have forgotten about this event from the early 1990s. I know I had. Thanks for reading!

  5. Like others are saying, very new story for me. Thanks for sharing it here!

  6. This is definitely a history that I did not know. Thanks!

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