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Michael Eshkol / Admas Chekol

Father's name: Chekol Alemo
Mother's name: Soegenio Sheraw
Year of birth: 1924
Place of birth: Hog Gabriel, Sekleit, Gondar
Region in Ethiopia: Tigray
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Teacher and communal leader
The language of the interview: Amharic

Michael Eshkol, Admas Chekol, nature, agriculture, shepherding, teacher, communal leader, names and meanings, festivals and special occasions, poverty, hunger, death, Ge’ez, Amharic, Tigrinya, monastery, Dikona, boarding school, purification, religion, war, chemical weapons, bishop, slaves, human trafficking, Hebrew, Dr. Freidan, synagogue, school, Aliyah organization, shoe factory, imprisonment, jail, Captain Hezi Ovadiah, Moshe Dayan, Mossad, Italians, Derg, Emperor Haile Selassie, Hog Gabriel, Sekleit, Gondar, Tigray, Degila, Egypt, England, Addis Ababa, Ambover, Wolleka, Asmara, Telemet, Awagama, Masawa, Eilat, Ashkelon, Sudan.

Summary of the testimony:

Michael describes his family tree, his village, and its local history. He lists his many names and explains their meanings. His father died when he was young. Michael describes the terrible hunger and poverty they endured. He relates that during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, people believed if they helped the poor they would be infected by their poverty.

The children of the family, including Michael, were housed with relatives. He worked guarding the cows. When he became fed up with this work, he began to study in a school that taught Ge’ez. Despite repeated entreaties to marry and become a farmer, Michael continued his studies and completed them successfully. He left the village and studied in a boarding school in a monastery in Gedila in a program to train Dikona –Nazirites or young apprentices. Michael describes his experiences there, the style of study, and the laws.

After he completed his studies in the boarding school, the Italians invaded Ethiopia. Michael describes the war and Emperor Haile Selassie’s diplomatic efforts. He describes the destruction and death caused by the Italians’ use of chemical weapons. He relates that during the war, the Coptic Church of Egypt did not send a supreme bishop to ordain religious figures. The entire process of religious appointments froze and churches were closed. When the war ended, the agreement with Egypt was cancelled, and for the first time in history a black Ethiopian bishop was appointed. This bishop reformed the hierarchical structure of the priests and monks. Michael was appointed as a Nazirite (one level beneath a rabbi).

The British, who played a crucial role in the war with Italy, demanded that changes be made in exchange for their help. The emperor was forced to comply. The changes included abolishing slavery and human trafficking, and forbidding kidnapping of people and public beatings. Schools were established where English was taught. These were managed by Catholic preachers, although until then Ethiopia had been Orthodox. The national currency was changed.

Thanks to his education and the national educational reform, Michael had the right to continue his studies in a new English school in Gondar. After he completed his studies there, he moved to Addis Ababa to continue his higher education. In Addis Ababa, he contacted the Israeli consul and asked to learn Hebrew. While he learned Hebrew, he worked in a synagogue of the Yemenite community. He heard on the radio David Ben Gurion’s declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel and his call for Jews from throughout the diaspora to immigrate to Israel. With the backing of the Israeli consulate, Michael set out to the Gondar area to organize the Jewish communities in that region to immigrate to Israel.

During the day, he traveled between the Jewish communities in the provinces and villages and encouraged them to act. At night, he worked as a guard in the clinic of an Israeli, Dr. Freidan, in the city of Gondar. This job was his cover story. Michael consolidated the support of the community leaders and the head Kesim, who were led by the great rabbi Berhan Baruch. He established an organization for immigration to Israel in the village of Ambover. Due to various challenges, the organization moved to the village of Wolleka. In Wolleka, Michael established a school for learning Hebrew. He managed and taught in the school. He established a large synagogue where prayers were recited in Hebrew. He brought delegations of tourists to visit the village and developed a market area where souvenirs were sold.

After two years in Wolleka, three representatives of Lubavitch came from Israel and instructed Michael in how to prepare the community for immigration to Israel. They asked him to continue his activities in the province of Tigray and presented him to the official representatives in Asmara. Michael was appointed as supervisor of a large Jewish-owned shoe factory. He appointed Jews he met in the factory as members of his organization. They were sent to disseminate the news about immigration to Israel throughout the country.

Michael set out to work in Tigray after repeated entreaties from the members of that community and after the grand Kes Aba Yizhak came personally to take him there. After much research, he began to build a large synagogue for the Jews of Tigray in the village of Awagama. During the construction, a dispute broke out between the different communities, and Michael had to complete the construction himself. As all of his work was done on a voluntary basis, his family’s financial condition deteriorated to the point that he had to sell his bed to buy clothes.

One day during the work, policemen arrested Michael. He was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting to help citizens leave the country. After the ruler of the province of Tigray intervened, he was released. Michael received permission to complete the synagogue and build a Hebrew school. When he returned to work, an emissary of the Israeli foreign office arrived and warned Michael that the regime still meant to harm him and that he must leave his family immediately and set sail for Israel from the port in Masawa, near Asmara. After sailing for a week, he arrived in Eilat and travelled from there to Ashkelon. He met Moshe Dayan and began to work with Captain Hezi Ovadiah in an attempt to bring Ethiopian Jewry to Israel.

After the Derg party deposed Emperor Haile Selassie, Michael was sent to Ethiopia by the Israeli government and continued his immigration activity. Following diplomatic efforts, permission was granted to bring 70 people to Israel. Michael selected them and accompanied them to Addis Ababa. From there they flew to Israel. Soon afterwards, the new regime stopped all Aliyah activity and cancelled diplomatic relations with Israel. Michael was informed by the Mossad that a path for immigration to Israel via Sudan had opened. He spread the news in the various areas of Jewish settlements in Ethiopia.

Michael Eshkol / Admas Chekol

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