Journey to a Promised Land
Through the deserts of Africa to the hallowed earth of Israel and Ground Zero, meet an Ethiopian Jew with a truly incredible life story.
Sipping chai among a sea of baby strollers and Times readers at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on a Sunday morning in spring, Avishai Mekonen is your prototypical Upper West Side dad, clad in a weathered baseball cap, crisp polo shirt and a five o’clock shadow. The only thing remotely unordinary about this slight, cheery 39-year-old emerges when he smiles—revealing an unusually-late-in-life set of shiny braces—and when he speaks, softly and carefully, with a faint accent that is difficult to place.
But the story of how Mekonen came to be a Manhattan father is not shared by many of his neighbors. It begins one quiet, pitch-black night in 1983 in a mountainous village of northern Ethiopia, when Mekonen’s parents woke him and his siblings suddenly, announcing that it was time to depart for the Holy Land.
Casually leaning back in his chair, Mekonen recounts his tale with a wide-eyed sense of wonder, as if he’s telling someone else’s story, not his own.
“That night I just …