Judie Oron was born and raised in Montreal to parents who were dedicated bookworms. “My mother turned me on to the Russian classics when I was a young teenager,” Judie recalls. “One year, around May 1, Mom suggested that I read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I loved that book so much that I felt compelled to start re-reading it every year on the first of May. I know it sounds weird but this went on for nearly a decade.”
Her father was born in the Ukraine and thrilled Judie and her brother with bedtime stories about his family’s wild escape from Russia during the Student Revolution. A dedicated news junkie, his tales of the war in the Belgian Congo inspired an early sympathy for Africa’s travails.
Judie credits stories about the Holocaust as a motivating factor for her lifelong identification with the underdog. “As a child, it shocked me to learn that people were murdered because they shared my own ethnic background,” Judie explains. “I pestered community leaders with the question, why did no one here try to do something? I’d boast that if I’d been alive then, I wouldn’t have stood by helplessly.”
It was easy enough for a child to be stirred by fantasies of dramatic rescues. But years later, Judie was faced with a dangerous choice when a young Ethiopian Jewish girl, whom she had taken into her family, revealed that her teenaged sister was lost in Ethiopia.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Judie worked in Israel as a journalist and weekly columnist for the Jerusalem Post newspaper. In 1986, she was appointed Director of the newspaper’s three charitable funds. When word came through that a group of impoverished Jews from war-torn Ethiopia were coming to Israel via a secret airlift from Sudan, Judie opened a fourth fund—Operation Homecoming—to cater to their needs.
In their struggle to reach Israel, families had been torn apart. After a man begged Judie to help him rescue his family in Ethiopia, Judie left the Post and organized a small, unofficial group of people to work on this and other cases.
In 1989, Judie took her first trip to Ethiopia. “I went there as a journalist, but early on, I realized that the situation called for volunteers, not more writers. The conditions were desperate—poverty, disease, and a Communist dictator who oppressed the Jews but refused to let them leave for Israel.”
In Ethiopia, Judie met Lewteh (not her real name), an adorable 10-year-old who had been separated from her family in a violent incident. Upon her return to Israel with Lewteh, the child’s father explained that another daughter had also gone missing in Ethiopia. “I paid a man to go and look for her, but when he came back, he told me that my daughter was dead,” he said. Nearly blind and desperately ill, Lewteh’s father asked Judie to take charge of his child.
Two years later, Lewteh revealed that she didn’t believe her sister was dead. “I can still feel her breathing,” she said tearfully. In 1992, Judie set out to look for Lewteh’s sister.
Cry of the Giraffe (2010) is based on the dramatic events that befell Lewteh’s sister Wuditu (not her real name) during those lost years, and her desperate struggle to survive until she could be rescued from captivity.
Of her journey to find Wuditu, Judie says, “My strongest memory was the outrage I felt when I realized that I was being asked to exchange a few tattered, smelly pieces of local currency for an actual person. It was devastating.”
Nearly twenty years later, having raised the girls along with her two sons, Judie returned to Canada in 2004 and has been working as a freelance journalist and speaker.
With one of her children in Toronto and three in Israel, Judie feels lucky to be a citizen of two remarkable countries. Apart from her writing, she enjoys taking road trips with her kids, weaving “pieces that look like landscapes to me,” and keeping in contact through visits and on Skype with her children and friends in Israel.
In recognition of her ongoing commitment to end child slavery, Judie was recently honored with an Ambassador for Peace Award by the joint committee of Women’s Federation for World Peace and the Universal Peace Federation. Her work was also praised by Member of Parliament Joy Smith, an ardent campaigner against human trafficking. MP Smith issued the following press release: http://www.joysmith..ca/news.asp?newsID=821. Of Cry of the Giraffe, she said, “Cry of the Giraffe is very profound, very moving ... and it reflects very well what Ethiopian girls go through every day. It makes people weep for girls in Ethiopia.”