With the genocide in Darfur topping the Jewish community's national agenda, an unmistakable Jewish presence ran through Sunday's rally.
Increased pressure from officials of American Jewish organizations is driving preliminary talks on a new deal to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel before famine takes a heavy toll on the community remaining in Ethiopia.
Coming on the eve of a federation-sponsored trip to Ethiopia, federation leaders, advocates for Ethiopian Jews, representatives of Jewish humanitarian groups and Israeli government officials met recently in Jerusalem to discuss new ways of expediting the emigration process for thousands of Falash Mura left in Ethiopia. The Falash Mura are Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity, often under social pressure, but who have resumed practicing Judaism and whose Jewishness is accepted by all three major Jewish religious denominations, including Israel's chief rabbinate.
For Ilana Besha, 19, the songs conjure up images of the first mass aliyah from famine-stricken Ethiopia to the Promised Land. "When word came to our village that we were going to Israel, it was like a dream come true," said the teenager, who was in Los Angeles last week with Shlomo Gronich and the Sheba Choir. But her long, exhausting journey was fraught with danger. As Besha, at 4, walked with her family across the Sudan, several of her baby cousins wasted away and died. "They are buried in the desert," she said.