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September 5, 2015 / 21 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopian’

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.

Farmers to Scholars – The Journey of Adiso and Yonatan Jambar

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Sitting with these two youths in Jerusalem, it is hard to believe their story is true. The two brothers, Adiso and Yonatan Jambar, aged eighteen and sixteen, emigrated from the village of Achfar in Ethiopia five years ago.

A family of eight children, they were the only Jews in the village. Their father made a living as a farmer and as an agricultural tools merchant. Yonatan can’t forget the Anti-Semitic attacks they suffered. The family was aware of their Judaism, but did not really lead a Jewish life. Their uncle was a well established land dealer. At some point he ran into difficulties, his house was burned and he was forced to leave the village. The rest of the family was forced to follow suit, selling their possessions at a very low price. They had to walk to the city of Gondar, seven hours away. Here, they attended a Jewish school, still suffering from various Anti-Semitic attacks. Yonatan remembers one incident when he was playing soccer with other boys, and they began to ridicule him for being a Jew. On the way back from school, he was attacked. The family lived in Gondar for five years, and them decided to make Aliya – to move to Israel. The family’s grandfather had already moved to Israel, and they joined him in 2007. Yonatan tells of a certain sense of shock when first arriving in Israel, but the family quickly adjusted to their new lives.

They first stayed at an absorption center, and later moved to Kiryat Yam in Northern Israel. After only half a year, they had a good command of the Hebrew language. The two brothers began to study at a Yeshiva-high school. “After learning Hebrew, we joined the regular class and there we found friends, good friends.” Yonatan began at a fifth grade level, but rapidly progressed and was moved into the seventh grade. While he was in the seventh grade, their family became closer to the Jewish tradition and began to lead a religious life. In Israel, they felt more secure about their Judaism and their bond to Jewish values and heritage became more prominent in their life. After two years in the Haifa area, the family decided to move to Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem.

The parents did not have an easy time finding a source of income, having to work at difficult jobs; but they constantly had their children’s education in mind. Today, the boys study at Ma’aleh Adumim Yeshiva-high School, Adiso in the twelfth grade and Yonatan in the tenth. They spend much of their time studying for the matriculation exams. Both have achieved impressive results, an outcome of difficult and prolonged efforts on their part, as well as special attention given by the school staff. Their day is long and crammed, starting at eight in the morning, and ending at six or seven o’clock at night. Their program is very intensive, including religious studies, math, English, physics, biology, technology and electronics, history. One of their teachers, Itamar Golan, said, “Today, they are first rate students in the Yeshiva. Studies at the Yeshiva are intensive and grueling. With the close accompaniment of the staff, they are both very successful, despite all the obstacles they have encountered.”

Their parents constantly encourage them, pushing them to fulfill their potential. They want Yonatan to become a doctor. He excels in biology, and hopes to become a vet. His grades are high, but he would rather not talk about himself. He believes one should be judged by their values, identity and personality; not grades.

Adiso, a top notch student as well, believes in influencing and contributing through social activities. He joined the Ariel youth group a short time after joining the Yeshiva. He became a leader in the group, and his dream is to influence Israeli society, generating a positive change. Yonatan joined the youth group with Adiso, becoming a youth leader as well. They are both involved in youth activities, educating the members of their group on the values of mutual accountability. They believe they have the power to minimize and even eliminate violence among youth. Through activities and games, they teach proper methods of communication between the youth, showing that violence is not necessary.

The brothers believe more can be done to further promote and assist the Ethiopian community in Israel. Today, the younger generation of Ethiopian immigrants serves as a guide to the older generation, helping them to integrate. Yonatan and Adiso have encountered some prejudice, but don’t dwell on them, preferring to look to the future.

Yonatan has fond memories of Achfar, but believes his life is better today, in Israel. His way of life and religious values are important to him, as well as his sense of belonging to the Jewish Nation, which he feels in Israel, and the security the Ethiopian immigrants feel. “In Israel, when I compare my life to the one I had in Ethiopia – it is better here. Our basic needs are the sense of security and the feeling of a belonging to an entity we believe in, leading the life the way we want. We find these basic needs met in Israel.”

Mediterranean Blues

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Young IDF soldier playing saxophone on the Tel Aviv boardwalk near Jaffa, May 3, 2012.

“The port area is a mixed suburb of buildings, interlaced by small streets, the main one of square cobblestones. Scores of shops, pubs, art and exhibition galleries, entertainment centers and restaurants – from Eastern European to Ethiopian, from kosher to crabs, from spaghetti bolognaise to bourekas – have gone up not far from the garages and large stores.  The nearer you get to the boardwalk and the sea, the more places you find to eat and drink.”

Mike Porter, Tel Aviv Boardwalk, Ezra Magazine

 

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.

Education The Only Antidote To Israel’s Racial Tensions

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Over the past several weeks, protests have spread throughout Israel calling for a response to racism targeting the country’s Ethiopian community. Sparked by a Channel 2 story on discrimination in Kiryat Malachi, citizens have taken to the streets to show their outrage at the status quo. Though the despicable slurs and actions that triggered these protests are blatant examples of these grievances, they conceal a deeper issue.

Beyond more overt examples, Ethiopian Israelis frequently have a harder time finding a job. They are perceived as a poor, underprivileged community and face the stigma of lacking the capability to contribute equally, even if this myth is belied by reality.

Perhaps even more difficult is the challenge of looking for housing. Homeowners are less likely to rent or sell to Ethiopians, whether as a result of exaggerated stereotypes or outright racism. While some of this is blatant bigotry, the rest is symptomatic of a deeper and far more widespread prejudice – indirect or concealed racism.

This sentiment is dramatized even in circles that would never admit to harboring prejudice. Well-intentioned statements about constructive activity, such as “I volunteer with Ethiopians” or “I donate to Ethiopians,” cast them on the other side of an imaginary but very real fence.

The primary vehicle to overcoming these obstacles is exposing reality through education, gaining knowledge of the range of personal stories.

The lack of education becomes abundantly clear when we consider the breadth of the average Israeli’s knowledge of the Ethiopian Aliyah consists of an ability to name Operations Moses and Solomon and to recite the lyrics to “Hayareach Mashgiach Me’al“, set to music by Shlomo Gronich. At best, this speaks of a widespread ignorance of the Ethiopian communal experience, and at worst to an active attempt to sideline a narrative that is deemed less important.

How many of us know that more than 4,000 Ethiopian Jews lost their lives on the way to Israel? How many know that nearly every family lost at least one loved one? How many know it was not only the Mossad that worked to save the Ethiopian Jews, but an enormous amount of activism from local members of the Ethiopian Jewish community as well?

Emphasizing these truths is critical to developing a true sense of equality, where the imposed image of the Ethiopian charity case is banished for good.

An even stronger tool than speaking of the wider community, however, is exposing Israeli society to the personal accounts of these same Ethiopian immigrants. Each Ethiopian family has its own story of aliyah, uplifting and inspiring for its own reasons. But hearing these stories and gaining entrance to them is something that takes initiative from the public – to ask, to take interest and to invite speakers to schools and communities.

At the same time, it asks the Ethiopian community to share it experiences, which often are buried deep inside. Yet it is precisely this process of mutual effort that offers the potential to reach the equally powerful goal of mutual respect.

One coordinated effort that strives to create tolerance on the basis of these stories is Project Abrah, which sheds light on the stories of Prisoners of Zion – individuals jailed in Ethiopia or neighboring countries as a result of their Zionist activity. As opposed to similar activists coming from Eastern Europe, these individuals, so influential in the modern Zionist project, have been largely unheralded for their actions.

In Project Abrah, both Israeli Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian youth work together to make films on the little known stories of these remarkable individuals. The films emphasize the struggles, sacrifices and ultimate successes of the Ethiopian aliyah, and those people who were instrumental in its achievements.

For Israeli Ethiopians, it is a way to promote intergenerational dialogue, and to utilize the heroic actions of their own community as a foundation for developing communal pride.

For non-Ethiopians, it is a means to understand the community, break down walls and shatter stigmas.  By listening to the stories of others, they begin to internalize the legacy of this community. This, in turn, impacts their interaction with the wider Ethiopian population, changing a relationship based on distance and preconceptions to one of mutual respect and admiration.

As participant Ettie Shimshilashvili from Beersheba said: “I was amazed to find out that people who I see on the bus, around the neighborhood, buying produce at the local market, and parents of my schoolmates are heroes who are responsible for bringing their fellow Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The project made me feel more comfortable speaking with my Ethiopian schoolmates and helped me understand our community better.”

Education – with emphasis on programs that involve personal stories – is the key to bridging cultural gaps in Israeli society. In this way, someone who began as an “other” becomes “another” – a fellow member of a wonderfully diverse community.

Decades After Immigrating, Ethiopians Decry Continuing Discrimination

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Thousands marched through Jerusalem on Wednesday to protest discrimination against Ethiopian immigrants, concluding a week of protests sparked by revelations that residents of Kiryat Malachi were refusing to sell or rent apartments to Ethiopian citizens.

Joined by white Israelis and representatives of several rights organizations, the crowds of mostly younger Ethiopian immigrants and children of immigrants marched to the gate of the Knesset, where so many go to air their grievances. Carrying signs calling for an end to discrimination, they decried the social and economic hardships that continue to plague the Ethiopian community, even two decades after their stunning rescue and relocation to Israel. Large sections of the 120,000-strong Ethiopian community lag behind the national average in education and employment, and domestic abuse cases – including dozens of incidents of husbands murdering their wives – have plagued the community.

Successive governments have devoted large sums to housing benefits and a range of other social welfare benefits for Ethiopian immigrants, but advocates say even more is needed for a community that has experienced such a deep culture shock in moving from rural Africa to modern Israel.

Many openly suggest that both the public and private sectors would do more to help the immigrants if they were white, claiming prejudices against the Ethiopians’ skin color and widespread suspicion of the authenticity of the their Jewishness prevent progress.

Thousands of the immigrants were made to undergo a conversion process, to remove such doubts. But religious and racial tensions remain, contributing to the community’s difficulties in integrating with the rest of Israeli society.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/decades-after-immigrating-ethiopians-decry-continuing-discrimination/2012/01/19/

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