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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopian Jews’

Torah Scroll and New-Born Baby Survived Two-Year Escape to Israel

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

This is the story of a miracle. It is about a group of people who survived trials and tribulations to live in Israel. This is the story of the Elias family, who lost two children on their journey and who bore Zehava Elias on the road.

Today, she is Lt. Zehava, a decorated IDF soldier.

“My father was born into the Ethiopian rabbinic community. My parents lived in a village and lived comfortably. When they first heard of the possibility of living in Israel in 1984, they immediately wanted to do it,” Zehava recalled. “It was a dream for them.” That year, Zehava’s uncles were part of a group that emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel.

Her family followed five years later. “My parents already had eight children and my mother was pregnant with me. They decided to leave everything they had behind: their possessions, their house, their animals, in order to return to Jerusalem,” Zehava said.

“They took with them only a little bit of food, money and my father’s Torah. They were joined by a guide who had already arrived in Israel during the first group’s immigration to Israel in 1984. He returned to help lead this group to Israel. They walked during the night so that they wouldn’t be identified, and they slept during the day,” Zehava explained.

Many died on the road, and the Elias family was not immune to such tragedies.

“One of my brothers was very sick. My father took him to a small town in Sudan for treatment. My older brother later told us that he was already dead in my father’s arms, but my father insisted on getting the child treatment. He was only three years old. Some time later, my other brother, who was five years old, died of dehydration. They had no choice but to continue on their journey,” Zehava explained.

“My mother was already late in her pregnancy during the journey. On one of the last days of the journey, my brothers carried my mother in a stretcher because she could not walk anymore,” Zehava recalled. “Her water broke while they were crossing a river and I was born, right there in Sudan.”

And their adventure continued. During their journey, Zehava’s father and older brothers were stopped and imprisoned in Sudan. Their mother and the rest of the children had no choice but to continue on.

More than a year after their departure from their home village, they arrived safely at their designated meeting place. From there, they took a plane to Israel.

The arrival in Israel was not as joyful as expected, because the family was still separated. The first year was not easy: language difficulties, problems with integration and, above all, the difficulty of building a new life without the men of the family.

It was only after more than a year that the last members of the family were released from Sudanese prison in order to join their family in the Jewish state.

In 1992, Zehava’s mother gave birth to twins, the first members of the family to be born in Israel. A few years later, Zehava began elementary school, where she already had plenty of brothers and sisters. As soon as they were old enough, every member of the family worked outside of school hours in order to support the family.

“My father worked as a janitor or repairman. It was hard work but he did it with pleasure because he was able to be in Israel. We also worked hard at school and were accepted into a very good school,” Zehava said.

In 2007, during Zehava’s last year of high school, Tata, one of her older sisters and mother of seven, told the family that she had cancer. Before she died, ”She instructed me to do something good in the army, whatever is most important to me. She believed in me,” recalled Zehava.

Zehava finished her studies with excellence. Then, in February 2008, she enlisted in the IDF. She became a commander at Havat HaShomer, a military base for troubled youth, before enrolling in officers’ training.

“I did not tell my family that I was doing the officers’ course. I needed to succeed because I took to heart all that Tata had asked of me. When my father came to the ceremony – he was obviously very proud at the officer’s ceremony. My mother was in tears,” Zehava said.

Mourner in the Crowd

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

A member of the Ethiopian community in Israel attended late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s funeral on Monday. In May 1991, as the Ethiopian government of Mengistu Haile Mariam was collapsing, Shamir ordered the airlifting of fourteen thousand Ethiopian Jews, known as Operation Solomon.

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).

Reviewing The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

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, an 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 haggada agree.

We were impressed with the Hebrew-English haggada’s photographic evidence of the lives led by Ethiopian Jews. The pottery, the unembellished homes, school, 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, Occidental, and other Jewish groups in the late 18th century. Surrounded 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 a general mention of his decades-worth of rescue efforts for the sake of 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 the arduous, sometimes fatal journey through the Sudan to freedom, as well as initial interactions with modern technology. Hold the haggada 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 Passover 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 matza fame – reading this publication, my soul resonated with his words, “Everyone must read this haggada. I want one.”

The Koren Ethiopian Haggada Journey to Freedom: Celebrating Ethiopian Jewish History, Traditions & Customs belongs on seder tables around the Jewish world.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/reviewing-the-koren-ethiopian-haggada-journey-to-freedom/2012/03/20/

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