By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Local political and other leaders today rolled out the red carpet for a visiting dignitary from Israel, who has a rather unusual background and upbringing.

Shlomo Molla (at left in photo) was born in an impoverished Jewish village in Ethiopia.  Now, he is the first sub-Saharan African to have risen in Israel’s political structure to become deputy speaker of the Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government.

Today, Mr. Molla shared insights on his Ethiopian homeland as part of a cultural exchange.

“I have lived in Israel for 28 years,” he told reporters. “I’m from Kadima, the opposition party in the government.”

The Ethiopian Jewish community traces its roots back 2,500 years to the exodus of Jews from Jerusalem following the destruction of the first temple.

Molla left his impoverished village in Ethiopia as a teenager, in 1984, and emigrating to Israel through the Sudan.

After spending time in an Israeli immigration absorption center, he learned Hebrew, went to school, served in the Israeli Defense Forces, got a degree, ran absorption centers, then got into politics to help others.

“If you have your own motivation, the sky’s the limit,” he said today.

And just last year, he returned to his village.

“It’s the same — there’s been no change,” he notes.  “The only change is all the Jews have moved to Israel.”

While Ethiopia’s GDP rate is soaring at 9 percent, only 35 percent of the country has electricity. But Molla says that with the help of Israeli-based companies, 85 percent of the country will have electricity within 10 years.

“Israel is very much involved in changing the lives of Ethiopians,” he says.


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