Barbara Ribakove Gordon went to Ethiopia in 1981 with the first American mission to Ethiopian Jewish villages. The group trekked through the rugged Semien Mountains in northern Ethiopia to reach an isolated Jewish village. From there, they went to Israel to report to government officials on what they had seen: appalling poverty and illness – and awe-inspiring dignity and Jewish commitment.
In 1982, a handful of dedicated men and women met in Barbara Ribakove Gordon’s New York apartment to organize the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ). As Executive Director of NACOEJ, Barbara was summoned to Ethiopia in May, 1991 to participate in Operation Solomon. With two opposing Ethiopian armies holding fires in a temporary armistice, she and two other NACOEJ volunteers helped the Israelis process over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews at the Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa for the historic 36-hour airlift to Israel. The NACOEJ group flew out on the last plane.
Today, under Barbara’s leadership, NACOEJ has over 50,000 supporters and a record of having rescued thousands of Ethiopian Jews from famine, civil war and persecution. She has frequently traveled to Israel, Ethiopia and throughout the United States, Canada, and England on behalf of Ethiopian Jews. Barbara was named “Unsung Hero of the Year” in 1986 by the New York Jewish Week and was honored by the City Council of New York in 2004.