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The Return Essay
The novel The Return, written by Sonia Levitin, is a fascinating novel written to show the oppression that Ethiopian Jews suffer. The Return is about a young Ethiopian Jewish woman named Desta, who, with her immediate family, travels to Israel for freedom. During this journey, her brother Joas is shot and dies, she has difficulty finding the group she is supposed to walk with, and she has to stay in a refugee camp for a short period of time. Finally, she reaches her destination and lives in Israel from then on. There are three main topics illustrated in this novel. Prejudice and its effects, maturing and finding one’s own identity, and joining together to achieve common goals.
Prejudice against Ethiopian Jews plays a big role in the Jews’ lives. For example, early on in the novel, Joas makes Desta realize that Ethiopian Jews are not even allowed to pray aloud. This relates to prejudice and its effects because praying aloud is very important for Jews and taking that away from them is the ultimate form of oppression. Furthermore, the novel explains that Ethiopian Jews are called Falasha (strangers) even though they have lived in Ethiopia for generations and are citizens. This is an example of the prejudice because calling an entire section of the population strangers makes them feel like outsiders. Also, when Desta and her aunt want to sell their pottery, the other Ethiopians pay them an unfair price. The prejudice against Ethiopian Jews is illustrated by the fact that non-Jewish Ethiopians cheat Jewish Ethiopians in commerce. Finally, when Desta and Almaz go to a small town on the way to Israel, the people of the town begin shouting at them, “You are buda, go before we kill you!” The people also refuse to give them food even though they are obviously starving. This episode in the novel shows the racial hatred felt by many against Jews.
During the journey to Israel, maturing and finding one’s own identity plays a big part in Desta’s and her family’s lives. For example, when Joas is shot, Desta has to take care of her younger sister and lead the way to Israel. This shows maturing on Desta’s part because now she is the one in charge, she is able to take care of her younger sister and get food so that she and her sister do not starve and she never gives up on going to Israel.
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Joining to achieve common goals is very important in Desta’s journey to Israel. For example, Joas, Desta, and Almaz join together and decide to embark on a journey to Israel. This exemplifies joining together to achieve common goals because three young siblings together decide to leave Ethiopia in order to live in Israel. Furthermore, when Desta is starving and no one is willing to give her food, she joins forces with a Muslim family and is able to obtain food. The Muslim family is too poor to buy food, but when Desta gives them her necklace, which she cannot sell, the Muslim family is able to buy food and give half of it to Desta. This demonstrates the effectiveness of joining to achieve a shared goal. Moreover, Desta and Almaz alone cannot
survive the journey to Israel, but since she travels with Dan and his family she makes it all the way. Dan and his family have food and a guide to lead them to the border of Sudan. By traveling with Dan’s family, Desta is able to reach her destination. Additionally, Operation Moses is a group of Israelis whose mission is to help Ethiopian Jews reach Israel. Operation Moses helps Desta’s and Dan’s family by taking them to Israel and helping them start a new life there. This demonstrates that the importance of joining together to achieve a common goal because the fundamental idea behind Operation Moses is that a group trying to help Jews leave Ethiopia will be more successful than one individual leaving on his or her own. Lastly, when Desta finally arrives in Israel, she attends a school called Gan Tikvah, which is a yeshiva to teach children how to read, to write, and speak Hebrew. This exhibits joining to reach a common goal. All of the students in Gan Tikvah are eager to integrate in Israeli life and by joining a group of people dedicated to this mission they are better equipped to achieve their goal.
In conclusion, the novel stresses three main themes: prejudice and its effects, maturing and finding one’s own identity, and joining together to achieve a common goal. It is because of prejudice and its effects that Desta and her family are forced to leave their country and flee to Israel. Moreover, it is because of joining together to achieve a common goal and maturing and finding one’s own identity that Desta and her close friends accomplished their goal of going to Israel. This novel teaches the reader that Israel is one of the most important places for Jews all over the Diaspora. Additionally, the novel teaches that when a government oppresses its citizens, those who are being oppressed should leave that place. The reader learns that although obstacles will come in one’s way, one should never give up in pursuing his or her goal in life.