Making the Grades
In the early 1980's, many Ethiopians fled their country ravaged with famine, drought and war, and headed for Sudan. The refugees walked hundreds of miles on foot and buried thousands of less fortunate travelers along the way. Among the masses were many practicing Jews (known as Falashas), claiming an ancestry through the Queen of Sheba and Solomon, king of ancient Israel. In an effort to relieve the suffering and find a home for the exiles, the Israeli government began a covert mission to collect their black brothers. They called the relocation project Operation Moses.
Placed in this historical setting is the fictional story of another Solomon (Moshe Agazai). He and his mother (Meskie Shibru Sivan) manage to survive the trek from their homeland, only to be faced with more hunger, thirst and mob violence as they huddle around a Red Cross tent in the wind-blown Sudanese desert.
Then the miracle rescue occurs. However, the invitation to the Holy Land is only extended to those of the Jewish faith--so the desperate, Christian mom formulates her own Operation Moses. Perhaps inspired by the biblical woman who placed her babe in a basket and then set it adrift on the Nile while praying the river might somehow save the life of her condemned child, this mother grasps what she knows will be the only opportunity to escape the deplorable conditions in the camp, and sends her son with the departing Jews, praying he might be given a chance to Live and Become.
But the nine-year-old boy is too young to understand her tremendous sacrifice or the blessings she hopes will accompany his exodus. Instead he feels discarded and rejected. Nor is his experience in the Promised Land all that either of them might have hoped for. Faced with the threat of being sent back should his secret be discovered, Schlomo (as he is now called) must learn a new language, convert to a new religion and adapt to a new culture in a modern civilization. Compounding the problem is the realization that many of the people in his new community do not support the immigration of the Falashas, or even acknowledge them as blood relations. (Most believe they are opportunists who have fraudulently sought shelter in their sacred country.) Pronounced an orphan and feeling like an alien, the confused youngster tries to live the lie, yet cannot shake the deep longing he has for the parent whose existence he must deny.
Eventually adopted into the loving home of Yorman and Yael Harrari (Rodchdy Zem and Yael Abecassis), Schlomo's progresses from child to youth (played by Moshe Abebe) and on to manhood (Sirak M. Sabahat). Still he continues to face the greatest challenge of all -- the fear of losing his true identity.
A co-production between France and Israel, the subtitled film follows his internal struggle, encompassing in the script depictions of third world life and its ever-present reality of death. There is some dialogue about the violence endured by the displaced people too, such as starvation, rape and murder. Other content of concern for parents includes mild profanities and two uses of a sexual expletive, some sexual remarks and the portrayal of a prostitute, as well as a backside view of a naked child in a shower and mentions of circumcision. As Schlomo culturally acclimatizes, he occasionally has incidents of anger and frustration, some of which lead to fist fights (and in one case a bloody injury is shown).
Although this is a very personal story, it addresses many universal issues, like the desire to belong, the strength of family bonds, and the pain of prejudice. It also provides insight into a moment of history hardly known in the Western world. While man's inhumanity to man plays an important part in this picture, so is the unconditional love extended to this lost soul by some exceptional people.
Their support, along with counsel from a mentoring Ethiopian Rabi (Yitzhak Edgar), help Solomon/Schlomo when he sets out to discover how he's supposed to live, and who his birth mother hoped he'd become. His tale may act as inspiration for others on a similar quest, or those wishing to assist them along the way.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Live and Become.
Sirak M. Sabahat, the actor who plays Schlomo as an adult, is an Ethiopian Jew who immigrated to Israel during a later evacuation called Operation Solomon. How do you think his personal experience may have affected the way he played this role?
Why do you think the character of Schlomo wanted so desperately to hold onto his Ethiopian roots? How does his adoption into a white Jewish family both help and hinder that desire?
To learn more about Ethiopian Jews and Operation Moses, check out the following websites: