An Ethiopian Journal

"Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters"

Posts Tagged ‘Judaism

Why were the Ethiopian Jews the last to arrive in Israel?

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Israel only brought Ethiopian Jews to the country under duress; and since their arrival, it has treated them worse than any other Jews

Interview with Dr. Chen Tannenbaum-Domanovitz

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Written by Tseday

January 12, 2017 at 2:07 pm

“Bring Me the Ethiopian Jews”

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Source: World Policy Blog

November 17, 2016
By Omri Bezalel

Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin called the head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, into his office in 1977 and said to him, “Bring me the Ethiopian Jews.” What followed were a series of missions by land, sea, and air that brought more than 56,000 Jewish Ethiopians through Sudan into Israel over eight years. It was a highpoint in Israel’s history, followed immediately by a massive failure to integrate Ethiopians into Israeli society—a failure that carries immense consequences for today’s young Ethiopian-Israelis who experience racial discrimination and sometimes feel as though they’re not part of Israeli society.

The scale of the calamity can be found in demographic statistics. There are about 140,000 Ethiopian-Israelis living in Israel, about 50,000 of whom were born in Israel. Sixty-five percent of Ethiopian children live in poverty and one-fifth are incarcerated in juvenile detention centers. Less than 11 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli high school students are eligible to graduate. One in five Ethiopian-Israelis—five times the number for the general population—are jailed during their military service, making up 12 percent of the military prison population but only 2 percent of the military. There are fewer than 40 Ethiopians (one out of 3,000) who practice law.

Today’s problems can be traced to the integration process Ethiopians went through when they first came to Israel. Addisu Masale, the first Ethiopian elected to the Knesset, remembers the segregation starting on arrival when he and others were put in permanent public housing. But these projects didn’t exist in prospering neighborhoods, which feared property devaluation; it was the neighborhoods lower on the socio-economic scale that were forced to take in the newcomers. Non-Ethiopian residents soon left, leaving the Ethiopian community isolated from the rest of Israeli society.

“In that way,” Massale said, “the schools and kindergartens, the offices, the neighborhoods, everything naturally became 100 percent Ethiopian with no connection to the rest of Israeli society, and no integration whatsoever.”

Masale, 63, was born in a Jewish village 500 miles north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. He went to a Jewish elementary school where he heard fairytales about Israel as a place without death and illness. The communist regime in Ethiopia at the time had many citizens looking for asylum in neighboring countries, and Zionist Ethiopian Jews, including Masale’s family, escaped to Sudan in hopes of making it to Israel. As many as 4,000 people died during the journey.

Masale recalls a long history of discrimination in Israel that led him to organize protests. In 1985, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel questioned Ethiopians’ Judaism and decreed they all had to convert; in 1996, the Ethiopian-Israeli community found out the blood bank was throwing away any blood they were donating.

Pnina Tamano-Shata immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia in 1984 at the age of three. Even though she excelled in school, she was routinely taken out of class to attend reinforcement lessons with other Ethiopian children.

“The separatism starts with the basic misperception that Ethiopians are weaker, based on the old reality of Ethiopians from 30 years ago who came to Israel with little or no education,” Tamano-Shata said. “Educators have projected this view onto students, many of whom have been tracked down special educational programs that don’t necessarily fit their skills or ability, and that isolate them in a homogenous environment that hinders their development and integration with Israeli society.” This separation leads to isolation, hostility, frustration, and increasing differences between Ethiopian children and their peers.

Israeli society has also been unwilling to accept Ethiopian-Israelis. In a 2013 Ministry of Finance survey asking employers which demographic groups they most preferred hiring, Ethiopians came in last after women, people aged over 45, people with disabilities, immigrants from the former USSR, Orthodox Jews, and Arabs. A 2012 survey by Geocartographica said that less than half of non-immigrant Israelis supported mixed classrooms, and only a quarter would allow their children to marry Ethiopians.

In an opinion piece called “I’m Not Your Cleaning Lady” for Ynet News, Israeli-born Esther Bisur gave examples of society’s institutionalized racism through her day-to-day interactions. These included strangers offering her jobs as a housekeeper, constantly being asked “when did you immigrate to Israel,” and her non-Ethiopian boyfriend being commended for “volunteering with the Ethiopian community” when seen together with her and her family.

This ongoing discrimination—along with greater awareness of the situation, through means such as a viral video of an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by a police officer—led to massive protests in Tel Aviv last year. The demonstrations were organized by a new generation of Ethiopian-Israelis, most of whom were born and raised in Israel. They claim they’re treated like second-class citizens and refuse to carry on what they consider to be their parents’ generation’s passive mentality.

“The older generation was content in fulfilling the dream of coming to Israel, and then were too busy surviving,” Tamano-Shata said. “The younger generation is fighting for its place within Israeli society, navigating its way between their love for their country and the many blows they absorb based on their skin color.”

While the situation for Ethiopian-Israelis has improved in recent years, many in the community agree they should be more involved in decision making. Various government and civil society programs have attempted over the years to close the gap between Ethiopian-Israelis and the rest of the population, but program leaders have, in the past, mostly been non-Ethiopians. This has led many in the Ethiopian community to see these programs as another means of differentiating them from the general population.

Many in the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad, out of true concern, have insisted the money they donate be used to help Ethiopians. This has led Israel to fund segregated programs that haven’t helped integrate Ethiopians. Tamano-Shata, who won a seat in the Knesset in 2013, pushed to pass a bill that said donors couldn’t dictate where their money went, allowing funds to be allocated in ways that meet the true needs of the community.

One of Tamano-Shata’s solutions is to have differential treatment in the budget, but integration in practice. For instance, instead of budgeting for Ethiopian youth centers, money would go toward providing Ethiopian children vouchers to attend community centers with the rest of the neighborhood children.

Masale believes there must be one authority in charge of all Ethiopian-Israeli matters, from policy regulation and distributing funds to publicity efforts that inform the public about the community’s history and culture in an effort to get rid of the stereotypes and ignorance that fuel discrimination.

On the one hand, things are better today than they once were. Two Ethiopian-Israeli female judges were recently appointed, the Ethiopian community is becoming more involved in decision-making processes, and there are many people, in and outside of government, who are working toward further improvements. This year, the prime minister signed a policy stating the Ethiopian National Project must spend its $130 million annual budget on programs that promote integration. But social media has also made the Ethiopian-Israeli community more aware of the injustices happening around the country as more cell phone footage, personal stories, and investigative journalism bring to light the harsh barrier of racism Ethiopian-Israelis face today.

“The flag of immigrants still waves in Israel,” Masale said. “People want immigrants in Israel, just not in their backyard.” Israel prides itself in being a beacon for Jews everywhere, and even has a Law of Return that promises citizenship to every Jew who wants it. But the true challenge of that promise isn’t in bringing Jews to Israel, but in what comes after.

*****

Omri Bezalel is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

Written by Tseday

January 12, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins

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The Brussels Times Magazine

The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins The Brussels Times - Ethiopia: Escape to the Land of Origins

Divine Ethiopia

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Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/travel/72794/divine-ethiopia-religion-churches-and-incredible-travel-sights.html (May 29th 2015 by Stanley Stewart)

Ethiopia “resembles no other country in Africa”, wrote the great explorer Wilfred Thesiger, “or anywhere else.”

Exploring Ethiopia by helicopter

Sunday Service in the church of Abuna Yemata Guh  requires nerves of steel. Yet they assured me the congregations were good. “Don’t worry,” the priest fussed. “Pregnant women are attending, old people are attending, tiny children are attending.”

I wasn’t sure I would be attending. I was standing on a narrow ledge. Below me was a 1,000ft drop to the valley floor. Somewhere above me, beyond a sheer polished cliff, was the church. My legs felt like water. I was sweating in places I had never sweated before. At that moment, the eye of a needle seemed easier to negotiate. “You must try,” the priest whispered. “God is watching.”

There are moments when Ethiopia seems to belong to an atlas of the imagination – part legend, part fairy-tale, part Old Testament book, part pulling your leg. In this land of wonders there are medieval castles of a black Camelot, monasteries among Middle Earth peaks accessible only by rope and chains, the ruined palace of the Queen of Sheba and the original Ten Commandments in a sealed box guarded by mute monks with killer instincts.

In the northern highlands priests with white robes and shepherds’ crooks appear to have stepped out of a Biblical painting. In the southern river valleys bare-breasted tribeswomen, who scar their torsos for erotic effect and insert plates the size of table mats in their lower lips, seemed to have emerged from a National Geographic magazine circa 1930. Ethiopia “resembles no other country in Africa”, wrote the great explorer Wilfred Thesiger, “or anywhere else.”

Its isolation is legendary. Not only was Ethiopia never colonised, but it also inflicted the greatest defeat on a European army in the history of the continent – at the Battle of Adwa in 1896. It was only the Italians, of course, but it still counts. Ethiopians were “forgetful of the world”, Edward Gibbon wrote, “by whom they were forgotten”. For long medieval centuries Europeans believed that Ethiopia was home to Prester John, legendary Christian ruler, descendant of one of the three Magi, keeper of the Fountain of Youth, protector of the Holy Grail, and all-round good guy who would one day rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Crossing the threshold of the church of Medhane Alem in Lalibela , I seemed to step back a thousand years. Cut by shafts of dusty light from high windows, the interior gloom was scented with frankincense. I came round a pillar to find a dozen priests leaning on their croziers, chanting in Ge’ez , a language no one has spoken since the Middle Ages. The sound was a curious cross between Gregorian plainsong and a nasal Arabic call to prayer. These were among the earliest Christian rites, unchanged for well over 1,500 years. Worshippers sat on the ground against the bare stone walls, wearing clothes that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Book of Genesis. They gazed mournfully at a pair of threadbare theatrical curtains. Beyond the curtains lay the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies , which held the Ark of the Covenant .

For a country with so much to offer, it is surprising to find tourism in Ethiopia still in its infancy. The war and famine of the 1970s and 80s, though now almost ancient history, may be partly responsible. But a deeper issue may be a feature of the national character – a lack of entrepreneurial urgency. Ethiopia may not be big on stylish boutiques hotels, littered with objets d’art and architectural magazines, but it is a delightfully old-fashioned place, with ravishing landscapes, sleepy villages and friendly, unhurried people.

It is difficult to pick a single destination from Ethiopia’s treasure chest, but first-time visitors shouldn’t miss Lalibela and its remarkable churches, all below ground level, and all carved from the rock as entire buildings with surrounding courtyards, exterior walls and roofs. Historians are uncertain about much of their history but Ethiopians have a handle on it. A celestial team of angels came in at night to help out after the terrestrial workforce had clocked off.

There are always two histories in Ethiopia: the history of historians, sometimes a trifle vague, often tentative; and the history of Ethiopians, a people’s history, confident, detailed, splendid, often fantastical. The two rarely coincide. Historians are still wringing their hands about the mysteries of Aksum  in Tigray  in the north, with its colossal stelae, its underground tombs, its ruined palaces and its possible connections to the Queen of Sheba. For a thousand years, until about AD 700, it was a dominant power in the region, “the last of the great civilisations of antiquity”, according to Neville Chittick , the archaeologist, “to be revealed to modern knowledge”.

Fortunately, the Ethiopians are on hand to fill in most of the historical blanks. The city was founded, they say, by the great-grandson of Noah. For 400 years it was ruled by a serpent who enjoyed a diet of milk and virgins. Historians may be divided about the Queen of Sheba but Ethiopians know she set off from here to Jerusalem with 797 camels and lot of rather racy lingerie to seduce King Solomon. Historians carelessly lost track of the Ten Commandments not long after Moses came down from Mount Sinai. Ethiopians have the originals under lock and key in a chapel in Aksum, guarded by those mute monks, assigned to kill all intruders.

The landscapes of Tigray are appropriately Biblical. It is a world where everything comes and goes by foot or hoof, a world of timeless villages perched beneath vast mesas and plunging ravines, a world where it is possible to imagine startling young men turning water into wine. With my bag loaded onto a Palm Sunday donkey, I set off on a three-day walk down the Erar Valley . I strolled through the latticed shade of eucalyptus trees, past scented banks of sage and mint, past stands of prickly pear and neatly ploughed fields framed by irrigation channels. I rested under the shade of vast fig trees beneath colonies of hornbills, bee-eaters and firefinches. A man in a white robe was winnowing wheat, tossing yellow forkfuls into the air, allowing the wind to take the chaff. Children ghosted out of orchards with home-made toys: a ball of goatskin and twine, a doll of twigs and wool. In the late morning I passed people coming back from the weekly market, two hours’ walk away. They were carrying some of life’s essentials: bags of rice, new sickles, bolts of bright cloth, blocks of salt that had come up from the Danakil Desert  by camel caravan. Everyone stopped to greet me with handshakes and smiles.

The trek was part of a new community project. The guides and the transport – my faithful donkey – were provided by local villagers who, with the help of NGOs, have also built hedamos,  or guesthouses. There is something special about these Tigrayan guesthouses – their location. Tigray is a mountainous region, characterised by ambas: dramatic, sheer-sided, flat-topped mountains. Most of the treks are easygoing, following the valley floors through pastoral landscapes. But towards the end of each day I started to climb with the guide, following steep paths along narrow rising ledges, to the summits of these anvil-headed ambas.

On the top, we emerged into a whole new world of luminous light and distant views. Here we found our home for the night, the community hedamo, perched in splendid isolation on the lip of a colossal escarpment, perhaps 3,000ft above the landscapes below. The views were breathtaking. We looked straight down, past circling eagles, to the world we had just left – ploughed fields, stone tukuls, eddying sheep, tiny white-robed figures trailing along dust lanes. Farther away, rivers carved swathes of ancient earth, canyons yawned open and valleys tumbled into one another. Farther still, mountains patrolled the horizons. With a slight turn of the head, I took in hundreds of miles.

At Erar and Shimbrety , the stone-built guesthouses, with their little courtyards and roof terraces, were comfortable but basic. Village women prepared delicious Ethiopian dinners that made little concession to Western tastes. The loos, Western-style, were in spartan huts. Washing facilities were wooden buckets of warm water. There was no electricity, just lanterns and candles. Yet these felt like the most luxurious places I had ever stayed. It was the luxury of unique experience, of meeting local villagers on their own ground, of engaging with an ancient way of life, of being far from tourism’s well-trodden trails. And it was the luxury of spectacular location. I have never been anywhere with more stunning views.

At Erar, night came with equatorial suddenness. A troop of gelada baboons , 30 or so strong, made their way home across the summit of the amba after a day’s feeding. They climbed down over the edge of the escarpment to precipitous ledges where they would be safe from leopards. The sun set over distant, mythical-looking mountains. When I turned round, a fat full moon was rising directly behind me. The world seemed to be in perfect balance.

Tigray, too, has its remarkable buildings. Scattered across these mountains are more than 120 ancient churches, most excavated in remote rock-faces like caves. Until the 1960s they were virtually unknown to the outside world. Older than the churches at Lalibela, they are little understood by historians. Which means we are left with the fabulous oral history of the Ethiopians.

Abuna Yemata Guh  is one of the more challenging churches to reach. A rock butte soared above us; I was getting a crick in my neck and a serious case of vertigo just looking at it. I imagined, as with the sheer-sided ambas, that there would be some circuitous path, some scrambling route to the top. It was only when we had trekked up from the valley floor and gained the narrow ledge that I began to realise I was going to have to climb a cliff-face, in fact several cliff-faces, to get to church.

A priest was waiting on the ledge, with the kind of morbid face usually reserved for the last rites. He advised me to remove my shoes and socks; bare feet would give me a better grip. It turned out that two men, who I had assumed to be casual passers-by, were in fact there to try to prevent me from plummeting to my death.

We started to climb. My two assistants, one above and one below, guided me to precarious foot- and hand-holds. This was rock climbing without the ropes, the safety harness or the Chris Bonington confidence. Spread-eagled on the cliff-face, clinging to the minor indentations that passed for handholds, I felt a trifle out of my comfort zone. Had I know what was in for, I would probably not have chosen Abuna Yemata Guh for a casual visit.

But once I reached it, I was thrilled I had. The climb might be hair-raising but the church is unmissable.

At the top of the cliff, not daring to look down, I gazed ahead, just in time to see a side-chamber full of bones – the priest insisted they were deceased clerics, not fallen visitors. Then I shuffled along a narrow ledge and came to a cave-like opening. The priest wrestled with a key the size of a cricket bat. A door opened and I stepped into the gloom of the tiny church, hardly larger than a modest drawing room. As my eyes adjusted, I became aware of faces round the walls. Then the priest lit a torch and held it aloft. Suddenly the dark walls were alive with figures: apostles and saints, prophets and the archangels, Mary and the infant Christ. The famous Nine Saints from the Levant , who had brought Christianity to Ethiopia in the fifth century, were here, as was Saint Yared,  who wrote so many of the early Ethiopian chants. The builder of this cliff church was here, Abu Yemata, mounted on a horse and accompanied by his nephew Benjamin, who had painted the murals.

The priest, a humble villager, told me the stories that swarmed across these walls. He told the stories as they had been told to him, as they had been handed down from one priest to the next from the earliest days of the Christian era. He referred to the apostles as if they were old friends. He talked of the saints as if they were men who had known his grandparents. He told me about the groom who had neglected Yemata’s horse. Yemata had turned him into a weasel. There, he said, bringing his torch near to the wall, illuminating a small weasel-headed man beneath the horse.

I asked why the church was here, so difficult to access, so high in these cliffs. The priest said it was for reasons of safety – it may well have been built when Christianity was still vulnerable. Then he added: “We are closer to God here, away from our world, and closer to His.” He lifted an ancient text enclosed in an ox-hide satchel from a nail on the wall. He asked if he should say prayers. I said I thought a few words might be a good idea. After all, I still had to get down that cliff-face.

Ethiopian Israelis still wander in the desert

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Source: http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2015/5/ethiopian-israelis-still-wander-in-the-desert.html
May 8th 2015 by Steven Kaplan

The Ethiopians [in Israel] will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.

Anyone viewing the recent clashes between Ethiopian-Israeli demonstrators and local policemen in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv could not help being reminded of similar scenes taking place barely a week earlier in Baltimore. Such a clear visual link between events in two such disparate places cannot but be viewed as further testimony to the power of satellite news and globalized media. We should, however, proceed cautiously in comparing the two situation or reactions of the parties involved.

Israel’s Ethiopian population is of fairly recent origin. Beginning in 1977, small groups began to make their way to Israel through Sudan or other countries. (At the time, Israel had no diplomatic relations with Ethiopia’s Marxist military regime.) Dramatic airlifts from Sudan (1984 and ’85) and on the eve of the fall of the Marxist government (1991) brought thousands into the country. After 1991, tens of thousands more arrived. Many of these immigrants spent years in transition camps in Ethiopia while Israeli politicians debated whether descendants and relatives of those brought into the country as Jews also had the right to make aliyah (literally “to ascend”) to Israel.

Today the Ethiopian population stands at about 135,000, over a third of whom were born in Israel or arrived in the country as small children. Despite plenty of good intentions (and we all know where those lead), their integration (what is called in Israel absorption) has not been easy.

While the immediate catalyst for the latest eruption of rage was the beating of an Ethiopian soldier caught on video, there are clearly deeper structural issues at stake. Although there have been clear improvements in school performance, high school completion, employment and almost every other quantifiable measure, Ethiopians still lag behind most of the country in educational achievement and income. Moreover, while the percentage of Ethiopians who serve in the military is higher than for the general population (and in Israel this is considered a badge of success), the percentage who complete their service is comparatively low. Despite official rulings in their favor, large parts of the powerful rabbinic establishment still question the Jewishness of the Ethiopians. Almost every school year begins with “crises” as one school or another refuses to accept its planned number of Ethiopian students.

Although it is often said that Israel is the first country to bring in people of African descent not to enslave them but to grant them equal rights as citizens, the truth is much more complex. Ethiopians were brought to Israel not merely to have equal rights but to be part of the dominant Jewish majority. Perhaps the most persistent testimony to this is that virtually any statistic available from government and nongovernment sources regarding the Ethiopians compares them not with the population as a whole but to other Jews.

For purposes of comparison, the 20 percent of the population that is Arab is invisible, and the success or failure of the Ethiopians is measured against only their Jewish counterparts. Thus while the campaigns on behalf of the Ethiopians are often voiced in terms of universal human rights, they often have a much narrower focus: equality with other Israeli Jews.

According to polls, Israelis overwhelmingly acknowledge that Ethiopians are discriminated against. This is commendable and in sharp contrast to the United States, where denial about racial discrimination is still common. At least in part, the Israeli anti-racist consensus is convenient because it limits itself to Jewish Ethiopian-Israelis.

Thus one can be anti-racist on the one hand and on the other ignore or take part in the ongoing pernicious discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel (leaving the territories out of the equation for the moment) or African migrants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who infamously warned of “droves” of Arab voters going to the polls during the recent election, was quick to chime in condemning the latest mistreatment of Ethiopians. “We must stand together as one against the phenomenon of racism, to denounce it and eliminate it,” he said.

Similarly, the Orthodox Sephardi party Shas has been among the most welcoming to the Ethiopians, while depicting African migrants as infiltrators who pose “no less a threat than a nuclear Iran,” as onetime party leader Eli Yishai put it. In a 2012 poll, more than 50 percent of Israelis surveyed agreed with the statement that African migrants are a “cancer on the body of the nation.” The same poll indicated that fully a third condoned violence against the migrants. Small wonder that at least some of the anti-Ethiopian violence in Israel appears to begin when police mistook Ethiopians for the “wrong” kind of African — Sudanese or Eritreans.

That said, there is no arguing that the situation of Ethiopians in Israel is difficult. Many suffer from daily slights and discrimination. Moreover, they are underrepresented in the country’s universities and key industries and overrepresented in its jails and prisons. Many are stuck in Israel’s periphery in small towns, which have poor schools and limited employment opportunities.

If past incidents are any indication, the latest uproar will quickly pass after the requisite handwringing and public statements. The policemen involved have already been either fired or suspended, and the political leaders have voiced their condemnation. The Israeli Ministry of Education immediately put forward age-appropriate lesson plans on racism and violence.

Doubtless money will be found for cultural awareness programs, for recruitment of Ethiopian officers and for research, which will be call for more programs, more recruitment and more research. The beating of the soldier will be added to the cumulative song (think “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly”) of injustices done to Ethiopian Israelis, all of which will be dutifully recited the next time their mistreatment becomes public.

Meanwhile, the Ethiopians will remain in the anomalous situation of both having entered the Promised Land and continuing to wander in the desert. Forty years may not be long enough this time.

Written by Tseday

May 11, 2015 at 1:38 am

Rabbi Dovid Weiss interview on the occupation of Palestine

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Jewish religious scholar Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss explains why he believes that Israel as a state is not legitimate and why he opposes the occupation of Palestine.

Written by Tseday

April 10, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Ethiopian Orthodox Church: History [short documentary]

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“Three thousand years of history cannot not be wiped so easily”