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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Ethiopian’

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.

Immigrant Absorption Minister: ‘Ethiopian Immigrants Should Be Grateful To Israel’

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Immigrant Absorption Minister and Yisrael Beitenu MK Sofa Landver said on Wednesday that Ethiopian immigration representatives in the Knesset should be grateful to Israel.

Landver made the comments during an emergency session held by the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs to investigate the issue of discrimination against Ethiopians in Kiryat Malachi. She was responding to an Ethiopian representative, Gadi Desta, who told the MKs that “apartheid” was taking place.

The emergency session was convened against the backdrop of a news report that local homeowners’ committees in Kiryat Malachi consistently refuse to sell or rent property to Ethiopians.

New Statistics on Christians in Israel

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

A new report released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics sheds light on Christians living in Israel.

In 2011, 154,500 Christians lived in Israel, 2% of the State’s population.  Of those, 80.4% (124,218) are Christian Arabs.  The remainder are primarily immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union with Jewish members of their families under the Law of Return, as well as Ethiopians, Phillipinos, and Romanians.

The largest Christian Arab town is Nazareth (22,200), followed by Haifa (13,800) and Jerusalem (11,600).  The largest population of non-Arab Christians resides in Tel Aviv and its environs, followed by the Haifa area, the south, and then the Jerusalem region.

The average age of Christian bridegrooms at the time of their first marriage was 29.1 In 2009, approximately 1.5 years older than the Jewish grooms, 2 years older than Druze grooms and 3.5 years older than Muslim grooms.  The average age of Christian brides was 24.5, about a year younger than Jewish brides, 3 years older than Druze brides, and 4 years older than Muslim brides.

The average number of minor children in Christian families is 2.2, with 2.3 in Jewish families and 3.1 in Muslim households. The Christian population growth rate is 1.3%.

According to the statistics, Christian Arabs had the highest rate of success on matriculation exams in the country in 2010, with 63% of Christian 12th graders earning certificates, compared with 58% of Jewish students, 55% of Druze students, and 46% of Muslim students.

Ethiopian Community Gets Well-Wishes from PM

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a holiday greeting to the Ethiopian community in honor of the upcoming Sigd holiday, which is celebrated on the 29th of the Jewish month of Heshvan – this year, November 26:

“My brothers, members of the Ethiopian community in Israel, I would like to greet you on the Sigd festival, the special holiday for the Ethiopian community, that symbolizes the covenant and the yearning to return to the Land of Israel.

While you have been celebrating this holiday for hundreds of years, it has received a different significance upon your return to the Land of Israel.  Naturally, you have continued to celebrate it here, as we all celebrate the Jewish holidays.  I am especially proud that the Knesset has adopted the Sigd festival as an official holiday like all of our holidays from the various communities, which together constitute the mosaic of the tribes of Israel.

Almost 30 years have passed since the beginning of the large scale immigration of the Ethiopian community and alongside prime ministers such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, I am proud to have had – and still have – the privilege of bringing members of the community to Israel and to see to their social welfare, their absorption and their becoming part of Israeli society.

I know that the way to the State of Israel and absorption in it has not always been easy and even today members of the community are finding certain things difficult, and we are trying to help them.  However, integration has been impressive and it is encouraging; it gives the essence to this idea of returning to Zion and combining the absorption of the tribes of Israel.

We will continue to work towards the absorption and strengthening of the Ethiopian community in Israel and we will continue to celebrate our holiday, the Sigd festival.”

Sigd is celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur and symbolizes the acceptance of the Ethiopian Jewish community – also known as Beta Israel – of the Torah.

Title: A Mosaic of Israel’s Traditions: Unity Through Diversity

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

      Jews all over the world celebrate the Sabbath, holidays and festivals, fasts and feasts with unique customs that are rooted in an incredible variety of ethnic cultures. Many ritual practices have been enhanced with sometimes exotic but always meaningful customs, many drawn from local folklore.

 

      A fascinating new book, A Mosaic of Israel’s Tradition: Unity Through Diversity, by Iranian-born ethnologist Esther Shkalim, is an enjoyable ride through the rich cultural diversity of the Jewish people.

 

      Shkalim moved to Israel with her family in 1958. An acclaimed poet, she earned a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from Washington University in St. Louis and is a doctoral candidate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

 

      The book was the idea of Diana Schiowitz, who edited the volume along with Frieda Horwitz. “After moving to Israel in 1985 and settling in a mixed community, I was shocked to discover how little I knew about the practices of so many of my fellow Jews,” said Schiowitz.

 

      During the five years that Schiowitz served as chair of the Israel executive of the AMIT educational network in Israel (2000-2005), it was clear that its 16,000 students “represented probably all the ethnic groups in the country, and in their homes and those of their grandparents a vast array of Jewish traditions were being practiced. It seemed natural to put together a book highlighting many of them.”

 

      The students’ anecdotes are the core of the book and reveal the impact of the local environment on the Jews: “Grandma said that in many places in Afghanistan it was customary to light Shabbatcandles with opium oil produced from the poppy plant because this oil was commonly available and inexpensive,” related one student.

 

      “My great grandfather says that in Afghanistan they did not use a Chanukah menorah at all,” said another. “They didn’t even know what it was! Instead, they took eight small plates made of silver or brass or clay, and arranged them in a row The Jews of Afghanistan were mostly anusim, (forced converts to Islam, beginning in 1939) [if] a non-Jew suddenly entered their home without warning they could say they were needed for light.”

 

      “In Persian homes, it is the custom for women to light two Shabbat candles on one tray, and candles in memory of family members who have passed away on another,” relates Shkalim. Between Kiddush (the blessing recited over a cup of wine) and the blessing over the bread, the Persians add a blessing over a fragrant fruit (like an etrog) or herb (basil or mint) and other fruits or vegetables. Sometimes they even say Kiddushover etrog liquor, which they make themselves.

 

      Among the other communities represented in the book are Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern and Western Europe; Sephardi Jews, whose origins can be traced to Spain and Portugal; the Jews of Asia and North Africa, whose culture was shaped by extended contact with Islam; the Jews who wandered from Persia to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, Turkmenistan, Bukhara and Afghanistan, as well as the mountain Jews of Kavkaz, who lived in Dagestan and Azerbaijan.

 

      In Tunisia and Morocco, it is customary for leftover afikoman (matzah which is hidden at the start of the Passover Seder) to be used as an amulet against the Evil Eye, or for a good livelihood. It is alleged to be especially good against dangers, particularly for calming a stormy sea. In Israel, a grandmother may well give it to her grandson when he commences his army service.

 

      “The Jews of Yemen are distinct,” said Shkalim, “because although they speak Judeo-Arabic, they were relatively less affected by external influences. They thus succeeded in maintaining many customs whose sources are very ancient.”

 

      Another rich source of material comes from the Ethiopian community in Israel. “The Jews of Ethiopia were generally isolated from other communities,” continued Shkalim. “In Ethiopia, candles were not lit for Shabbat because they took the prohibition against lighting fires on Shabbat as a general law.”

 

      ‘In Ethiopia, we didn’t celebrate Chanukah,” one AMIT student related when asked about the holiday. Their arrival in Ethiopia can be traced from the exile of the 10 tribes, long before the Maccabean victory, and “Ethiopian Jews did not even know there was such a holiday, until emissaries from Israel came to Ethiopia and taught us.” Purim was limited to the Fast of Esther, the day before the Purim holiday.

 

      Sharing the Shabbat and holiday experience was typical in the close-knit Ethiopian communities. Meals were often eaten with neighbors “to make them more festive.” A communal bread ceremony was held after prayers every Shabbatmorning, with the kes (rabbi or holy man) making a blessing over the bread that the women had made and then distributing it. The bread was called misvaot (similar to mitzvot – blessings). “My father says that he could always identify the pieces of bread baked by my grandmother because her bread was the tastiest,” said Shoshanna.

 

      A whole chapter is devoted to the Sigd holiday, which is unique to the Ethiopian community and commemorates both the giving of the Torah and the communal gatherings held in Jerusalem in the days of the First Temple. Falling exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, it was a day that involved trudging up to the top of a mountain – often carrying rocks as a sign of submission – and praying for forgiveness (sigd means “bowing down in prayer”). At the end of the day, “everyone would descend while singing and dancing, and go to the synagogue where they would partake in a festive meal”

 

      With the mass migration of the Ethiopian Jewish community to the Holy Land in the 1990s, celebration of the Sigd festival shifted to Jerusalem. Today, Ethiopian Jews from the Amhara region of Ethiopia hold their ceremonies at the Western Wall, while Jews from the Gondar region gather at the Sherover Promenade in Talpiot, which overlooks the Old City.

 

      Shkalim also included traditional customs of the isru chag in her book, which is celebrated by various communities the day after Passover. “We try to hold onto the happy experience that has just ended,” said Shkalim. The Moroccan community calls this day Mimouna, the Kurdish community calls it Saharana and the Iranian community Ruz-e-Bagh.

 

      Enhancing the rich anecdotal content of the book are over 200 outstanding illustrations, including paintings, photos of prized illustrated texts (such as the 13th century Worms Machzor – among the oldest known Ashkenazi prayer books), photographs and woodcuts.

 

      A Mosaic of Israel’s Traditions is a treasure-trove of Jewish customs, “bringing a broad and colorful cultural tapestry from a multitude of Jewish communities,” writes Israel Prize winner Professor Rabbi Daniel Sperber in the foreword to the book. It has “enriched the individual heritage of each and every one of usand enhanced our communal heritageHopefully, it will encourage all of us to search into our past, to question our parents, grandparent, uncles, and aunts and to discover their family practices and folkways.” (IPS)

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/title-a-mosaic-of-israels-traditions-unity-through-diversity/2007/02/07/

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