My dear friend Baruch Tegegne – a tireless advocate for his people who sacrificed much of his own life to save them, a man who did the first rescues of Ethiopian Jews in the late 1970s (after himself escaping Ethiopia on foot), and whose escape routes were used by thousands of Ethiopian Jews – died after a six-month battle with severe illness. The levaya, funeral, is Wednesday at 1 PM at the Kiryat Ekron Cemetery near Rehovot, Israel.
Update 9:30 am CST – Here is an email I received a moment ago from my friend, noted filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, about Baruch:
It is with deep sorrow that I am sharing the passing in Israel of my very dear friend Baruch Tegegne (z”l). The funeral will be on Wednesday at 1pm at Kiryat Ekron Cemetery. Baruch was born in Ethiopia and was one of the original group of Jewish youths brought to Israel by then President Ben-Tzvi and raised in Kfar Batya. He was then sent back to Ethiopia to be a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community. In Ethiopia, he served his community and the state of Israel in many, many ways. After Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed, he was arrested by the Marxist Military junta as an Israeli agent. He escaped Ethiopia without a passport and literally walked across deserts and stowed on ships to make it back to Israel. In Israel, he became one of the most important figures in the advocacy campaign for bringing the Ethiopian Jewish community on aliyah. He lobbied, he smuggled people and he put his life on the line to make sure this most ancient of Jewish communities would be rescued from violence and starvation. When I met Baruch in Montreal in 1979, there were only 400 Ethiopian Jews in Israel. It is no exaggeration to state that he was the one individual most responsible for the fact that there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel today. Everyone who met him knows that Baruch was a sweet human being and a true Jewish hero.
On a very personal note, meeting him changed the course of my life. He involved me in the Ethiopian Jewry movement and encouraged me to make my first film, “Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews”. Like so many people that he touched, he literally changed my life.
May his memory be for blessing.
Update 10 am CST – I'll try to write a detailed article later. But I want to add that Rabbi Moshe Feinstein gave Baruch Tegegne (and myself) a bracha, blessing, that we sould be successful in saving Ethiopian Jews. So did Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, the Av Beit Din of Crown Heights and the Rebbe's posek. (This was before the Rebbe put out the word that he did not want Chabad to help Ethiopian Jews.)
Baruch wrote an autobiography that was published by Gefen Books. You can buy it here.
Update 12:20 pm CST – The Jerusalem Post's report:
Pioneer of Ethiopian aliya dies at age 65
Filmmaker: "No exaggeration to state Tagnene was one individual most responsible for fact that there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel today.
By GIL SHEFLER • Jerusalem Post
Baruch Tagnene, one of the first Ethiopian olim who later played a prominent role in successfully lobbying the government in Jerusalem to bring his brethren to Israel, passed away on Tuesday aged 65.
Tagnene was born in Ethiopia and first came to Israel in 1955 when he was 12 years old as part of a youth group organized by then-president Yitzhak Ben Zvi.
He studied agriculture in Kfar Batya before returning to his country of birth where he put the agricultural skills he obtained in Israel to use building a modern farm.
In 1974, he had to flee Ethiopia after a communist faction which had come to power accused him of being an Israeli agent. After a long and perilous journey on foot through the Sahara he eventually found his way back to Israel where he championed the cause of his brethren back in Ethiopia.
Simcha Jacobovici, who made a documentary called Falasha: Exile of the Black Jews, credited the late Tagnene with a key role in the immigration of around 81,000 Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel, to the Jewish state.
“When I met Baruch in Montreal in 1979, there were only 400 Ethiopian Jews in Israel,” he wrote. “It is no exaggeration to state that he was the one individual most responsible for the fact that there are over 100,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel today. Everyone who met him knows that Baruch was a sweet human being and a true Jewish hero.”
His relatives said Tuesday that Tagnene served as an inspiration to his friends and family.
“My uncle was everything to me,” his nephew Demoze said.
Tagnene’s funeral will be held in Kiryat Ekron at 1 p.m. Wednesday. He is survived by a daughter.