From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jan/Feb 2007

Our attention never wavered as Maway Ananya told her dramatic story recently at The Friends of Israel headquarters in New Jersey. Born in 1982 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Ethiopia, Maway remembered how her parents spoke secretly about going to Israel: “We had only the Bible. We knew Ethiopia was not our home. Israel was our home.”

As Ethiopian Jews who knew only hostility from their community and government, Maway vividly remembers her father’s dramatic announcement: “We are going to Israel.” With eight children and only the barest necessities, the family began its long journey.

“For two and a half months we spent the day in hiding and the night walking. Miracle—it’s the only word that can describe that we even survived,” Maway said.

Seven-year-old Maway and her family finally reached a Sudanese refugee camp where they lived for the next nine months, pretending not to be Jewish. “There things went from bad to worse,” Maway continued. “My best friend died in the Sudan. I wanted to cry but couldn’t.”

Then came her father’s second striking announcement: “Tonight we are going to Israel.” Together they started to run in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. “I was so tired,” she said. “I thought we would never make it. My family heard many stories of those who didn’t. Then a truck picked us up and drove for hours to the airplane that took us to Israel. When we arrived in Israel we celebrated by singing ‘Jerusalem of Gold.’ We knew we were home.”

Maway’s transformation from a child in Ethiopia’s primitive society of peasant farmers to a third-year law student at Bar Ilan University took time. Initially, she experienced culture shock. With a note of humor, she declared, “I was shocked to see white Jews in Israel!” Many things we consider to be normal conveniences were incomprehensible to her at first.

Maway visited The Friends of Israel through Israel at Heart, a nonprofit organization that promotes a better understanding of Israel by sending Israelis ages 21 through 27 around the globe to tell their stories.

Joining Maway were David Marks and Ayelet. David was born in London in 1983 and moved to Israel with his family at age two. “My father is a Zionist who wanted to raise his children in Israel,” said David, who now lives with his family in Kfar Shmaryahu, a small village eight miles north of Tel Aviv.

From 2001 to 2004 David served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) where he was assigned to the multi-launch rocket systems unit. His last two years of service were divided between combat duty and training younger soldiers. In July 2006 the IDF recalled him to serve on Israel’s border with Lebanon during the war with Hezbollah. “As reservists following active military duty, all of us in Israel can be called to serve at any time,” he said.

David spoke frankly about the war, saying that many things went wrong. “I was disappointed with the outcome,” as were his fellow Israelis, noting that the three Israeli soldiers Hezbollah kidnapped are still missing.

Our third guest, 23-year-old Ayelet, was born in Israel but spent much of her childhood in the Philippines and Turkey, where her father served in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. She now lives in Jerusalem and studies at Hebrew University. This was her fourth trip to America with Israel at Heart. Ayelet was unaware of the widespread Christian support for Israel until she came to the United States and Canada and met many Christian Zionists. She was overjoyed at her first opportunity to speak in an evangelical church where she experienced an outpouring of enthusiastic Christian support for the Jewish state.

It was obvious that our Israeli guests were not professional public relations people. Rather, they were Israelis who love their country and represent the real diversity of life in Israel today.

Israel at Heart was founded in response to media bias against Israel. These young people travel the world to share their personal stories and answer questions about all aspects of life in the Jewish state. They have completed their military service, are educated, and speak English well.

A growing number of churches and Christian schools are welcoming Israel at Heart. If you would like to bring a group to your church, school, or other organization, you may contact the organization through its Web site, israelatheart.com; by email at info@israelatheart.com; by writing to 580 Fifth Avenue, Room 2611, New York, NY 10036; or by telephoning 212-719-9020.

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