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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Israeli-Ethiopian Youth Celebrate Their Heritage

Young Ethiopians get a boost in self-esteem through the celebration of their heritage at the Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center.
A performance at the Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center.

A performance at the Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center.
Photo Credit: Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center

The Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center was established in order to create an environment where young Ethiopian Israelis will be able to explore their culture via dance, music, and theater. According to Tracey Shipley, project coordinator at the Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center,

I created the project as a way in which to excite Ethiopian Israeli teens and children about their heritage, helping them to feel a sense of pride over who they are as Ethiopian Israelis. I also hoped that through their performances they can show Native Israelis the beauty of their culture and what they ‘bring to the table’ as immigrants to Israel.

Discussing the participants who come to the program, Shipley said,

They learn how to dance, play instruments and act in a way that reflects their heritage and culture. They learn to love their culture and to appreciate it and are full of pride when performing it to excited audiences who have never encountered their culture. One Ethiopian Israeli teen while watching his friends perform through Malkat Shva told me he never realized how beautiful his culture truly was. Through the songs they sing and the theater in particular they express their personal experiences as Ethiopian Jews in Israel and bring their narrative to others in a creative way.

Photo credit: The Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center.

The  Center has recently expanded their activities for youngsters. Presently, over 100 young Ethiopian Israelis living in two different neighborhoods in Jerusalem are active in the program. Yet, the Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center hopes to expand their activities even further. Shipley reported,

We are teaching traditional Ethiopian dance, musical instruments and theater in Amharit. This summer we will also be teaching traditional fine arts and singing to young Ethiopian Israeli children at a summer camp, God willing, if we raise the funds needed.

The Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center was launched in collaboration with Kidum Noar, the Jerusalem municipal organization concerned with at-risk youth, and the Theater division of the Jerusalem Arts Department.


Photo credit: The Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center.

Ethiopian youngsters have reacted positively to their experience performing with Malkat Shva Ethiopian Cultural Center, which now plays a central role in their lives.

Raphael Gasasa a participant in the program shared,

I am 18 years old. I left Ethiopia at the age of 8. I was born in the village called Tsikot and moved to the city of Addis Ababa at the age of 3. We all moved besides my father who refused to leave Ethiopia. I have been participating in the Malkat Shva program for Ethiopian culture for 3 years. The program helped me to increase my self esteem and gave me pride as an Ethiopian living in Israel. I am no longer shy to get on stage and learned how to bring aspects of myself to audiences through drama, dance and music.

Yitzchak Damesia another attendee said,

I left Ethiopia for Israel at the age of two, and I’ve been living in Jerusalem ever since. I started acting at the age of 10 (my mom claims that I started a lot earlier) mostly in school and community plays, and my dream was to be a professional actor. I got a step closer when I joined the Malkat Shva Center and learned theater from a real actor (Beyene Getahun -future colleague). More importantly then that I got to see other sides of my culture which I seemed to forget, through Ethiopian dancing and singing and for that I’m grateful.

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About the Author: Rachel Avraham is a news editor and political analyst for Jerusalem Online News, the English language internet edition of Israel's Channel 2 News. She completed her masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. The subject of her MA thesis was: "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab media."

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