Shlomo Molla, the first Israeli Ethiopian Deputy Speaker of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) met with Black/ African-American, Jewish leaders and clergy members this week in Chicago to share his compelling rags to riches story. He was here with hopes to bridge and deepen transcontinental ties to the African Diaspora.
In 1983, sixteen year old Shlomo Neguse Molla heard about Jews from Tigre Province, 700 kilometers away, being flown to Israel through Sudan. Even then, Molla, who attended the Jewish high school run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, was a leader. He and a few friends trekked miles across Sudan where to board planes bound for Israel.
He completed high school in Haifa, joined the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), became an officer, and later earned his LL.B. By 1991, Molla was working with the Jewish Agency as a volunteer during Operation Solomon. He was then appointed Director of the Unit for Ethiopian Immigration & Absorption of the Jewish Agency.
Less than two decades after arriving in Israel, Shlomo Molla became the second Ethiopian Member of Knesset. He is a member of the House Committee, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Public Petitions Committee, the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, Alternate Member, and Finance Committee and is Chairman of the Lobby for Equality and Pluralism and the Lobby for Struggle Against Racism. On August 3, 2011, Molla became the first member of the Ethiopian Jewish community to serve as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset.
Born in an impoverished Jewish village in Ethiopia, Molla could now serve as Israel’s president if both President Shimon Peres and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin were out of the country.
While in Chicago, Molla brought his unique message to African-American, Jewish leaders, rabbis, ministers, celebrities, politicians, journalists and students. Some of those he met with included:
Oreal James, chief of staff for senator Kwame Raoul; Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul; Illinois State Rep. William Davis; James Judson Gillespie, President, Center for Healthcare Innovation, 1st VP and next President, America-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Chicago; Debra Wesley, VP Sinai Community Hospital; Chris Harris, Pastor and Community Activist-CEO, Bright Star Community Outreach; Michael Neal, Sr. Pastor, Glorious Light Church; and Pam Ross, Director of Leadership Development, Communications, Community Relations to name a few.
Molla's trip to Chicago was a part of a four-city of the United. Other stops on his tour included Philadelphia, Atlanta and New York.