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Thursday, September 3, 2015

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He was a shepherd

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Kibur Asres died last month at 61 in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and was buried in Addis Ababa. Thousands cried for him, Jewish and non-Jewish. We, in Toronto, were honoured to have known him.

Kibur was born on May 12, 1950, in Dabat, Ethiopia, to Qes Asres Yayehe and Amarach Denku. He was known to his close family as Wondemalem, translated as “my dearest brother.” According to his daughter, Beth, he was a wise, kind, generous, courageous and complex man.

Like many great leaders in training, Kibur spent his early years tending sheep. In the 1960s, he graduated, with honours, from Addis Ababa University with a degree in chemistry and mathematics and received his diploma from former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie.

Kibur spent the next eight years working as a professor. While teaching at Bahir Dar University, he met the lovely and gentle Walelign Fanta. They had three children, Joseph, Eyassu and Bethlehem (Beth). 

In 1983, following the Ethiopian revolution and with a bounty on his head, Kibur and family fled to Montreal with the help of JIAS. They were among the first Beta Israel families to leave Ethiopia and arrive in Canada. He completed a master’s degree in social work at McGill University, while he continued working as a chemist and researcher for the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, specializing in AIDS research.

Later, the family moved to Toronto and Kibur worked as a social worker with Jewish Family & Child. He was the president of the Toronto Ethiopian Association, and created a very successful parking-lot management enterprise called Globe Park Ltd. Kibur was also the dean of the Ottawa School of Business.

His true passion in life was community service. “Any person who had the opportunity to know him can attest to his genuine passion to improve the lives of all those he encountered,” Beth said.

Kibur was the founder of Horn Refugee Foundation, which assisted more than 3,000 African refugee claimants. He established the Re-Med Foundation, which provided medical supplies to underprivileged people internationally. He also created the Addis Hope Foundation, which assisted in community development in Ethiopia.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” This was not the case with Kibur Asres. He helped dozens of Ethiopian Jews immigrate to Canada. He was an executive member of the Canadian Jewish Congress and served on its race relations committee. He travelled to Israel in 2000 on an exclusive trip for the national executive of the CJC. While there, he spoke with then-prime minister Ehud Barak about the plight of the Falash Mora.

Kibur was quoted saying, “Apart from the fact that not enough is being done to bring them to Israel, not enough is being done simply to keep them alive. They have so many relatives here [in Israel] and are going to come at some point, so why extend their pain and suffering.”

He is survived by his grandchildren, Rebecca, Abigail and Matthew; his siblings, Etzuvdink, Sara, Kokobie, Mulualem, Mintiwab, Addisalem and Paulos, and many nieces, nephews, cousins and lots of people he saved.

Kibur was a kind of Ethiopian royalty, in his own unique way. More than 1,000 people came to his shivah in Israel, and hundreds more in Toronto. He died young and was very fit to live. Zochreinu livrachah.

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