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The story of a people in tapestry

A unique Ethiopian Jewish quilt that showcases the history of that community by depicting traditional village scenes and illustrations of familiar Bible stories, is now on display at the Mandell JCC in West Hartford.

Once considered the oldest diaspora community practicing Torah Jewish observance in existence, in 1984-85 the Ethiopian Jews were secretly air-lifted to Israel through Sudan in what came to be known as “Operation Moses.” Four thousand died on the treacherous route; 15,000 were left stranded in Ethiopia.

Those who were left now had no way to support their families. The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) responded by developing a program to enable the heads of Jewish households to support their families by using traditional Ethiopian skills to produce products that could then be sold in the United States. And so, the Embroidery program was born. Hundreds of men and women created intricate hand–embroidered tapestries – often taking a month to complete one embroidery square.

In 1991, in a 36-hour mission dubbed “Operation Solomon,” Israel air-lifted 14,000 of the remaining Ethiopian Jews from the capital city of Addis Ababa to the Jewish state. Today, nearly 130,000 Ethiopian Jews reside in Israel. One third of those were born in Israel to Ethiopian Jewish parents.

In 2002, the Mandell JCC purchased 24 embroidered pillowcases from NACOEJ. JCC member Diane Kruger Cohen created the quilted wall hanging showcasing the remarkable craftsmanship of the Jews of Ethiopia.

For more information: (860) 231-6339,

CAP: Diane Kruger Cohen and children from the Mandell JCC afterschool program show off the Ethiopian Jewish quilt now on display.

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