Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 2 – Ethiopian Jews

Thanks once again to Jack Cohen for his summary of this interesting lecture, part 2 of a series taking place in Netanya. Thanks also to Gabriella Licsko, our guest lecturer, who was kind enough to review Jack’s summary (and the previous one) and approve it.

Click here for part 1.

Thanks to guest poster, Jack Cohen from the Netanya branch of AACI. This is from his blog, Isblog.

This lecture series with Gabriella Licsko continues in Netanya with Exotic Jewry:  Communities and Lost Tribes on Nov 3, Nov 17 and Dec 8.

Call 09-8330950 or visit http://www.netanyaaaci.org.il/PDF_files/Lecture%20Series%20-Exotic%20Jewry%202013.pdf

Scroll down for information and details about upcoming lecture series in November, “Let’s Surf on the Map!” and in December, “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors” at the AACI – Max & Gianna Glassman Family Center in Jerusalem.

For her second lecture in the series on Exotic Jewish Communities, Gabrella Licsko spoke about the Ethiopian Jewish community.  There are about 120,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and the largest concentration of them is in Netanya.  It is common to see them in our streets and working around the city.  But, the Ethiopian community has had a hard time adapting to Israel, perhaps more than most immigrant communities.

The origin of the Ethiopian Jews is shrouded in mystery.  The popular theory is that they are descended from the liaison between Kind David and the Queen of Sheba.  Sheba was not in Ethiopia itself but across the Red Sea in Yemen.  In biblical times and later it was a very verdant area often ruled by Queens.  The son of the Queen of Sheba was Menelek who is considered to be the founder of the royal line of Ethiopia descended from King David.  Much later they converted to Christianity.  Another theory is that the Ethiopian Jews are descended from the tribe of Dan.

Around the 15th century there is eyewitness testimony of a Jewish Kingdom in Ethiopia, and for several hundred years it was ruled by a Jewish dynasty.  But, wars between the Jewish and Christian kingdoms resulted in great destruction and finally the Christians won and reduced the Jews to penury.  Jews were only allowed to be farmers and petty artisans, they were driven out of the main cities and those who survived ended up in Gondar province in the north east and some in Tigre province.  They spoke Amharic, which is a southern semitic language, but their sacred texts were written in a special language called Geez, that only the priests (Kesim) could read.

Because of their remoteness and isolation from other Jewish communities, the Ethiopian Jews never developed Rabbinic Judaism, had no access to Ashkenazi and Sephardi texts and never celebrated Hanukkah, a later festival.  They do however celebrate a unique festival of Sigd, 50 days after Yom Kippur, when they pray as a community to be returned to Israel.  This day is now a holiday for them celebrated in Israel.

During the 18-19th century things became worse for the remaining Jews who were named Falasha, a derogatory term.  Many were forcibly converted to Christianity, forming a group called Falash Mura, or “impure people.”  The relationship between the Jews and the Falash Mura is complex, some Jews regarding them as brothers, and others looking down on them as traitors.

By the 19th century their numbers had declined drastically because of a general famine in Ethiopia and attempts were made to help them.  In the 1920s Rav Kook, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, wanted to arrange their aliyah, but unfortunately it did not happen then.  Later several individuals, mostly the educated children of senior Kesim, managed to reach Palestine and then Israel.  But, the very poor majority continued subsistence farming in Gondar through civil wars and political strife under Haile Selassi and the Marxist dictator Mengistu, both of whom would not allow them to leave.  In 1974 Rav Ovadia Yosef, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, agreed to accept them as Jews and this helped their aliyah, even though many Haredi Rabbis refused to accept them as Jews and still do.  In the 1980s many of them trekked across the desert to Sudan, although thousands died on the way.   In 1984 they were spirited out of Sudan secretly to Israel in operations Moses and King Solomon by El Al and with the help of the US.  But, eventually this route was closed and it only became possible for the rest to leave once the regime changed and wanted greater contact with the US.

Due to controversy about whether or not they are truly Jews there were bureaucratic hold-ups in their transfer to Israel and their acceptance under the “law of return.”  Finally most senior rabbis accepted them as Jews, allowing the Ministry of the Interior to recognize them.  The Falash Mura immigrated more recently and were also accepted, but they are required to convert.

Since they came from almost a stone-age background, they had no idea what things such as planes, toilets, elevators and TVs were.  Not only was it difficult for them to adapt to modern life in Israel, but they had to learn Hebrew and often how to read and write.  Also, since the men had been farmers there was not much they could do in Israel and often the wives, who were younger and more adaptable, became the bread winners, thus undermining their traditional family structure.   But, we should point out that this year’s Miss Israel is an Ethiopian girl from Netanya named Titi and there are now Ethiopian MKs and even one Ambassador.  The Ethiopian Jews are still adapting to Israel, and prejudice against them is gradually fading and in several generations it will probably be difficult to remember how hard it was for them to be absorbed here.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities. She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program. Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

UPCOMING LECTURE SERIES WITH SCHOLAR GABRIELLA LICSKO IN NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER

November:  Let’s Surf on the Map!

Join us for a new series about the Land of Israel, about the geography and society:  get to know the amazing geographic, social and cultural diversity of this Land, explore holy cities and the secular ones

 When:

Wednesday, November 6th at 14:00

The four holy cities: Hebron, Jerusalem, Tzfat and Tveria; past, present and future.

Wednesday, November 13th at 14:00

”If you want to be a mayor, go and build for yourself a city” Meir Dizengoff. Tel-Aviv and the center of Israel

Wednesday, November 20th at 14:00

“The South and the North will rise again! But how and when?”

Wednesday, November 27th at 15:30

Yehuda and Shomron and a crash course on Kibbutzim, Moshavim, Yishuvim, development towns and planned cities.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

_______________________________________________________________

December:  “Jerusalem of Gold, Jerusalem of Colors”

Get to know more about the capital of the State of Israel.  Learn about the neighborhoods, both old and new, their history and society, the culture and population of different areas, the famous residents, institutions, schools and synagogues, social and demographical changes, real estate prices and new projects in town.

When: 

Wednesday, December 4th at 14:00

The OldCity, Yemin Moshe-Miskenot Sheananim, Musrara, Kfar David.

 Wednesday, December 11th at 14:00

Meah Shearim: Learn how a relatively modern religious neighborhood established by Polish and Lithuanian Jews in 1874, turned to be the symbol of extreme ultra-orthodoxy and anti-Zionism.

Wednesday, December 18th at 14:00

The most popular areas and neighborhoods in the city and the “Anglo colonies”

Wednesday, December 25th at 14:00

Lesser known and less central neighborhoods, their population changes and potentials, and Jerusalem real estate in the past and now.

Cost of series:  170 NIS / AACI members 150 NIS (Individual lectures 50 NIS each) Pre-registration with payment required.

 Gabriella Licsko is a lecturer on Jewish history and society focusing on different religious communities.  She leads tours of different neighborhoods in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and across the country, and is one of  AACI’s Scholar in Residence for our travel program.  Gabriella holds a bachelor’s degree in Culture Studies and a master’s degree in Jewish Studies and made aliyah from Hungary in 2007.

AACI is the home for English Speakers in Israel with offices in Jerusalem, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheva and Haifa.
AACI Jerusalem – Dr. Max and Gianna Glassman Family Center Pierre Koenig 37, corner of Poalei Tzedek 2 (across from Hadar Mall) Talpiot, Jerusalem
Buses # 10, 21 & 49 stop on Pierre Koenig across from AACI; 71, 72, 74 & 75 stop at Tzomet Habankim, a 10-minute walk away.
(02) 566-1181 for more information about any programs or to register.
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One thought on “Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 2 – Ethiopian Jews

  1. Pingback: The AACI Blog | Exotic Jewish Communities – Part 3 – Indian Jewish Communities

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