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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopia’

An Epic Ethiopian Aliyah Story

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Asher Tagai journeyed to Israel from Ethiopia and his ordeal coming to the Holy Land is truly inspiring. Asher Tagai was born an Ethiopian Jew and has lived a hard life. In the 1980’s, the Ethiopian regime was biased against Jews and Israel and countless Ethiopian Jews were imprisoned by the government based on the fabricated charge of being a Zionist spy. Asher recounted that he was sent to jail by Ethiopian authorities on fraudulent charges, resulting in his subsequent recognition as a prisoner of Zion. In some areas of the country, Judaism was even illegal and Jews were forcefully converted to Christianity. According to Asher, “many Jews preferred to commit suicide over becoming Christian.”

Asher claims that between 1979 and 1984, many Ethiopian Jews sought to escape these conditions by making Aliyah to Israel. They left behind an ancient history and rich cultural heritage. Due to the fact that he was serving time in jail Asher was part of one of the later waves of the Ethiopian Jewish exodus to Israel. He said that he prayed to G-d a lot during this period of time to be set free, so that he would be able to come to Israel with his family. However, it was very dangerous to make Aliyah to Israel during this period of time. According to Asher, “anyone who was caught” making Aliyah to Israel “was given the death penalty.” 

Asher claims that what the Ethiopian Jewish community experienced was very similar to the exodus story in ancient times. He explained, “In one day, we packed up all of our stuff and if you couldn’t, you just left it. There was a lot of uncertainty. You could never know what happened from one day to the next.” Asher claimed that Ethiopian Jewish families were separated from each other during their voyage. He explained, “They went by non-Jewish guidance to Sudan during the night and hid during the day. There was a lot of robbery, thieves, rape, murder; every thing bad that you could imagine, along the way.”

As bad as the situation was in Ethiopia, Asher said that the situation got even worse when the Ethiopian Jews arrived in Sudan. In Sudan, members of the Ethiopian Jewish community were forced to live in horrific conditions in special camps. According to Asher, Ethiopian Jewish families with pregnant women and very small children “were sleeping in tents” in extremely hot weather. “It was like living in an oven,” he explained. Furthermore, “The food and water they got from Red Cross was in a bad condition and they got sick. Some died. At least 5 to 6 people per family died,” Asher stated, “You went to sleep and didn’t know if the person next you will get up.”

Asher was traumatized by the ordeal and still suffers from nightmares to this day. He claimed, “There were 19 bodies on the same day surrounding me and sick people had to make graves with their bare hands, even though they were sick. My sister delivered a son who died and she also got sick. She wanted to go back to Ethiopia to see her father and then died. Only her daughter survived.”

Asher finally managed to make Aliyah to Israel and upon arrival within the country, he kissed the ground. Today, he is living and working in Israel, has a family, makes sure to volunteer with the Ethiopian Jewish community and also helps other Ethiopian Jews make Aliyah to Israel so that they can be given the same opportunities that he was. When he was in prison in Ethiopia, Asher promised G-d that he would give back to the community if given the chance to make Aliyah with his family and he has kept his word regarding that. He concluded, “I suffered a lot in Ethiopia. Making Aliyah was like coming back to life. Everyday I thank God for being in Israel.”

Visit United with Israel.

Obama to Dine with Miss Israel

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

Ethiopian-born Miss Israel, who was crowned only two weeks ago, will dine with President Barack Obama at President Shimon Peres’ official residence next week, Army Radio reported Wednesday.

Obama’s staff invited Miss Israel, otherwise known as Yityish Aynaw, who also was an officer in the IDF.

The appearance of a black Jewess, from Africa no less, dining with the first black American president, who has roots in Kenya, is a PR dream for Israel, which finally will get enthusiastically positive media coverage.

Aynaw will also have plenty of good copy for the herds of journalists who will be covering President Obama’s three-day visit.

Her relatives in Israel brought her from Ethiopia when she was 12 years old.

The Ethiopian community has suffered prejudice in Israel, particularly but not only from Russian Jews, whose culture and tradition are the antithesis of that of Ethiopians.

Like many Ethiopians, whose Jewish beliefs are deep-rooted, she was told that milk comes out of faucets and gold coins are in the streets of Israel.

After being named Miss Israel at the age of 21, she said that Martin Luther King Jr. was one of her heroes because “he fought for justice and equality, and… I want to show that my community has many beautiful qualities that aren’t always represented in the media.”

Correct politics probably had a part in her winning the beauty competition. Former Miss Israel winners have included a Russian immigrant and an Arab. Pageant director Iris Cohen told the Tablet, “I think she was not the most beautiful, by classic beauty, [but] she stands on the stage and you cannot ignore her.”

Now decked out in dresses far more fancy than the ones she sold in a store, she speaks her mind.

Unlike previous foreign-born pageant winners and many new immigrants from Ethiopia who adopted Hebrew names, she told Tablet, “I was born sick, but my mom believed I had a future,” and she explained that Yityish is Amharic for “look,” or as Aynaw explains, “looking toward the future.”

“I’d never change my name,” said Aynaw. “Ever.”

Israeli Jewelry Entrepreneurs Give Back to Ethiopian Community

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Orna Levy is a fourth generation Jerusalemite whose family has been in the jewelry-making business for the past 100 years. Orna and her husband Itzik Levy, an immigrant from Argentina, created the Yvel company in 1986, and their jewelry line—featuring pearls, sapphires, diamonds and other gems—is internationally known. Today, Yvel (Levy spelled backwards) manufactures its jewelry in Israel and exports to 650 retail outlets on five continents including Neiman Marcus. Katy Perry, Rihanna, Maria Sharapova, Scarlett Johansson and Isla Fisher have been seen wearing Yvel-designed jewelry at celebrity functions and on magazine covers.

The company’s employees are mostly immigrants who have come to Israel from places like the United States, Syria, Iraq and Ethiopia. The Levys’ business philosophy is firmly rooted in social responsibility and philanthropy.

“Itzik’s father lost all of his family’s savings in a bad business deal upon arriving to Israel,” explains Orna. “Itzik has never forgotten this and has always aimed to strengthen weaker immigrant populations in Israel.”

This is why Itzik and Orna celebrated Yvel’s 25th anniversary in 2010 by establishing the Megemeria School of Jewelry and Art, which offers professional training in jewelry crafting and design to new Ethiopian immigrants.

Partnering with the Association for Community Empowerment (Yedid), which assists Israelis in becoming self-sufficient members of society, the Levys opened the school within the Yvel complex, outside Jerusalem. The school gives the students, who are all recent immigrants from Ethiopia, jewelry-making training followed by employment opportunities in the Yvel factory once they complete the program.

While learning the jewelry trade, including gem-setting, gold and silver-smithing, and the design process, the students also receive Hebrew lessons, family budget and management training, math courses, and Israeli cultural lessons. For many of the Ethiopian students, who had little if no formal education back in Ethiopia, these supplementary courses are critical for a better integration into Israeli society and finding employment.

Yedid’s executive director Sari Rivkin says that the first graduating class of Megemeria has produced a special collection which was inspired by the immigrants’ personal and collective journey from Ethiopia to Israel. “Many of the jewelry designs feature words from the students’ native Amharic language. This is a very unique social enterprise,” Rivkin explains.

Once the students graduate and take the Israel Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor certification exam, they can begin working at Yvel’s Design Center either in jewelry design or in sales and administration. For the graduating class this year, eight will continue on with Yvel, making and selling jewelry, with profits helping to cover their salaries and the costs of the school.

Abbito Einalem, an Ethiopian student who came with no background in crafting jewelry, now looks on proudly at a pendant she has created, inscribed with the Amharic word desta, which means happiness. “I want to continue in this profession in the future,” she says. “It has given me so much already.”

Operation Dove’s Wings Begins as Ethiopian Aliyah Comes to a Close

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Operation Dove’s Wings commenced on Monday, with arrival of some 240 Olim from Ethiopia, half of them children, on the first charter flight. The flight was organized by the Jewish Agency for Israel, pursuant to the July government decision to increase the rate of Ethiopian Aliyah, in order to complete the immigration of the remainder of the Falash Mura to Israel.

The ceremony at Ben Gurion airport took place during the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors, which is taking place this week in Tel Aviv, with Jewish leaders from Israel and around the world.

On July 2012, the government of Israel decided to increase the rate of Aliyah from Ethiopia in order to complete the process as quickly as possible. It was decided to reopen the Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center at the Sha’ar HaNegev Regional Council, which will be able to accommodate up to 600 of the Falash Mura.

Immigrants arriving from Ethiopia will also be housed in 16 Absorption centers around the country, run by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. In order to facilitate absorption of the new immigrants, Jewish communities around the world and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews have raised $3 million, in addition to $1.5 million invested by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.

Operation Dove’s Wings is expected to be completed by October 2013, with the arrival of the remainder of eligible Falash Mura, who have been waiting in Gondar. The Jewish Agency for Israel has been operating a community center in Gondar, headed by Asher Sium, to provide services for the waiting Olim. The center provides a comprehensive range of social services with the support of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. These include preparation classes for Aliyah run by a group of volunteers, humanitarian assistance, and catering services. The center also runs a school which includes Hebrew and Jewish studies, as well as the regular curriculum of the Ethiopian Education Ministry.

Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky said at the ceremony: “What a miracle. I just met a brother and a sister who were reunited today after 25 years. Well, we the Jewish people have just been reunited after 25 centuries. When Ethiopian Jewry left Israel, there was no Hannukah. Now we can celebrate both Hannukah and Yom Haatzmaut together. Together we are writing the last page of the history of Ethiopian Jewry. We are now bringing all of our brothers from Africa to Israel. This is happening thanks to the State of Israel, world Jewry and our Christian allies.”

Mass Aliyah is Beginning of End of Ethiopia Project

Monday, October 29th, 2012

It’s the beginning of the end of Ethiopian aliyah, as 240 Ethiopians alight a plane to Israel Monday afternoon, the first of a series of flights dubbed Operation Dove’s Wings which will take place until the last one in March 2014, marking the end of the state of Israel’s rescue of the Falash Mura  – Ethiopians with Jewish ancestry.

Many of today’s olim have been waiting in the refugee camp in Gondar province for years – as many as 10.  Last July, amidst outcries from Israel’s Ethiopian community, Israel decided to conduct a last major endeavor to remove the last remaining Jews – and their descendants – from the African country.

The Jewish Agency’s Ibim Absorption Center near Sderot will house up to 600 new immigrants, with a budget of $3.1 million from the Jewish Agency and $1.4 million from the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was scheduled to attend Monday’s event, cancelled his appearance, but Vice Premier Silvan Shalom will attend in his place along with other government officials, dignitaries and philanthropists.

Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Title: Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel
Author: Ronda Robinson
Publisher: Mazo Publishers

Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel is a compact introduction to decency. Its eighteen personality profiles illustrate how Israelis from all walks of society improve the Holy Land’s quality of life, and then some. Author Ronda Robertson is a freelance journalist who decided to offset mainstream media’s negative stereotyping of today’s Israelis with a book. She did an outstanding job of presenting the goodness of Israel to the world at large in a mere 144-page paperback.

Unlike formulaic biographies from popular publishing houses in the Orthodox Jewish world, Beyond Politics is not predictable. The vignettes of individual men and women who trekked through Ethiopia and Sudan, flew in from Austria, India, and Algeria, or were born on Israeli soil are gritty, adventurous, and heartwarming.

Robinson lets her readers see, hear, and taste the efforts that her subjects undertook to become part of Israel. Shlomo Malla rose from being an illiterate desert dweller who walked 485 dangerous miles to become an Israeli and later a highly educated politician; former Algerian Sara Lanesman made aliya to unify Israel’s deaf citizens with a sign language they can share, ending the confusion of multiple signing dialects in one tiny country; Dr. Lior Sasson leads the way in healing indigent children around the world of heart defects – at no cost to their families; terror attack survivor Liora Tedgi helps people cope with tragedy with her Terror Victims Support Center. Each of them explains the gut-wrenching moments that changed their lives forever, and how they chose to help others to cope with fear, social alienation, life-endangering illness, and grief. Other people lift just as vividly off the page to inspire you and the information-challenged critics of Israel’s Jewish population.

Younger readers will have material for book reports as they marvel over Chicken Lady Clara Hammer, docent Rena Quint, skateboard king Elchanan Davidson (he’s far more accomplished in amazing ways) and shepherd/diplomat Yisrael Avidor. Adults will also appreciate peace-promoting teacher Miri Flusser, Azerbaijan-born violin maker Lev Strinkovsky, biblically-inspired chef Moshe Basson, Scottish-born Sam Greene, therapist Davina Davidson, happily married Joe and Marion Goodstein, Hevron’s beloved tzabarit leader Sarah Nachshon, plus Faydra Shapiro and her pro-Israel education of non-Jewish tourists. Completing the inside look at Israel are interviews with story-teller Rabbi Hanoch Teller and founder of world-famous B’erot Bat Ayin holistic school for women Rabanit Chana Bracha Siegelbaum.

Enjoy the read. Buy Beyond Politics: Inspirational People of Israel to arm yourself with responses to the next nasty reporter who maligns Israel. And consider sending him or her a copy.

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Title: The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom: Celebrating Ethiopian Jewish History, Traditions & Customs

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Title: The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom: Celebrating Ethiopian Jewish History, Traditions & Customs Editor: Rabbi Menachem Waldman Publisher: Koren Publishing

It’s a humbling experience to live in Israel, among Jews whose genes date back to Bayit Rishon. It’s equally humbling to study the historical overview that is The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom: Celebrating Ethiopian Jewish History, Traditions & Customs. Looking at life untouched by Talmudic exegesis is a trip into the collective Jewish past, a historic breakthrough.

Rav Rachamim Goshen discussed this new publication with me. A man of Ethiopian heritage who teaches in the Ahavat Yisrael/Rappaport school for girls in Bet Shemesh, he appreciates, among other cultural realities presented in the book, Koren’s accurate representation of Ethiopian prayer leaders called kessim. “Ethiopian women and many males only answer ‘Amen’ to the prayers chanted by the kessim,” he and the Koren haggadah agree.

We were impressed with the Hebrew-English haggadah’s photographic evidence of the lives led by Ethiopian Jews. The pottery, the unembellished homes, schools and synagogues, the gaunt Jews in modest clothing and head coverings guiding equally emaciated farm animals portray dedication to Torah values despite harsh political and topographical conditions. Colorful paintings by children and artisans complement the photos with a sense of gaiety. Amharic documents spread across several pages give global Jewry a peek into the literacy and literature of Jews cut off from centuries of contact with the wider Jewish world. Ethiopia’s Jews were surprised to learn of Ashkenaz, western and other Jewish groups in the late 18th century. Razed by forcible Christian missionaries and conversions, Ethiopia’s surviving Jewish communities had believed themselves to be the only remnants of Judaism worldwide.

Editor Rabbi Menachem Waldman provided an undetailed mention of his decades’ worth of rescue efforts among Ethiopia’s Jews in the forward. He stands off to the side, so to speak, letting Ethiopian Jewry’s story tell itself. Page 53’s black and white rendering of The Vision of Abba Baruch appears beneath a photo of the priest’s face. The prophetic 1935/5695 announcement described the future rescue of Ethiopian Jews. Rare photos show that arduous, sometimes fatal journey through the Sudan to freedom, plus initial experiences with modern technology. Hold the haggadah a distance from your eyes that will likely fill with tears. The artwork, the faces filled with fear, awe and naiveté alert readers to the miracle of Jewish Ethiopia’s isolated survival over centuries.

The cover photo of Ethiopian Jewish women preparing matzot is an apt metaphor for the Pesach experience. As I watched a man who has saved many lives on his own initiative – my friend Rabbi Ephraim Kestenbaum of kosher oat matzah fame – reading this publication, my soul resonated with his words, “Everyone must read this haggadah. I want one.”

The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom belongs around the Jewish world.

Yocheved Golani is the author of “It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge” (booklocker.com/books/3067.html).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/book-reviews/title-the-koren-ethiopian-haggada-journey-to-freedom-celebrating-ethiopian-jewish-history-traditions-customs/2012/03/29/

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