The story of the Ethiopia’s Beta Israel community is a story of the choice to leave behind an entire life in Ethiopia, to pay high prices, and to set out on a journey of fulfilling a dream - aliya to Israel - the return to Yerusalem.
In spite of that brave choice, in Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community faces racism, persecution, and inequal treatment. This incongruity - the gap between the Zionist, inspiring past of the community and the difficulty they presently face - is not discussed enough in Israel today.
Recently, nearly 150 12th graders and gap year participants of Ethiopian descent from the HaNoar HaOved youth movement associate with Dror Israel gathered for the annual Shorashim (Roots) Seminar. Coming from youth movement branches across the country, the teens gathered on Dror Israel’s Kibbutz Ravid for an intensive, fun and educational weekend. Together, they learned about the storied history of the Ethiopian Jewish community, learned about the community’s leaders and the brave, Zionist choice of so many families.
The seminar invited the participants to dive into their family’s history, gaining a new appreciation of their parents’ brave choices and learning about the community life and traditions which have been lost over the years.
At the seminar’s closing ceremony, Adina and Aviv, two gap year participants, addressed the 12th graders:
“[In our educational work this year] we choose to see ourselves like the youth of Kfar Batya (an youth village in Israel where some Ethiopian Jewish youth studied in the 1950s, preparing to lead their community). Like them, we set out together with a shared mission of changing things around us with which we take issue and choosing to lead society.
We ask of you to continue this mission and invite you to be a part of it. During the seminar we talked about Ethiopian culture and identity. There is a reason we choose to learn about this together, assembling from all across the country with a shared goal.
In the words of [the leader of the Ethiopian aliya] Fareda Aklum: “History is not mine alone, it is all of ours. If you wouldn’t have come after me, Fareda would have been a lone wolf.”
The teen participants will return to their youth movement branches all over the country and bring with them the lessons they learned during this inspiring seminar. The 12th graders will soon make an important decision whether to delay their army service to complete a gap year where they will run educational programs around Israel. During the Roots Seminar, they explored their responsibility as youth from the Ethiopian Jewish community to educate about the story of their community, to inspire pride and honor, and to choose to be leaders in Israeli society, fighting for equality.