“Know where you come from and where you are going”- Pirkei Avot ג
The story of the Ethiopian immigration is the story of a community that chose to leave behind life as they knew it and to embark on a difficult journey to arrive in Jerusalem- the land of their dreams. Also called “Beta Israel,” literally translated to “House of Israel” in the ancient Ge’ez language, the community faced religious persecution in Ethiopia and terrible hardships on their path to Israel. Yet even when many of them made it to Israel, it was not an easy arrival to the Holy Land they dreamed of. They continue to experience discrimination, racism and economic hardships. Today, the story of the Beta Israel’s immigration and the difficulties they face are not widely known or discussed.
Last month, the HaNoar HaOved youth movement hosted the “Shorashim” (roots) Seminar, which invited the movement’s twelfth graders and gap year program participants to learn more about the history and present-day challenges of the Ethiopian community. The seminar was made up of nearly 100 participants who are members of the community themselves as well as those who educate in predominantly Ethiopian areas.
Together they learned about the courageous and Zionist choices made by families from the Ethiopian community. They encountered the stories of heroes such as Farda Aklum whose brave choices and leadership helped lead the community to Israel. These stories are often difficult and painful to tell for those who were a part of the treacherous journey to Israel, so for some participants it was their first time hearing about the bravery of their own parents. Many have grown up hearing the widespread narrative that the Ethiopian community was weak and helpless and needed to be rescued. To hear the story of the courage and bravery of the Ethiopian aliya was incredibly empowering for the seminar’s participants. The seminar also featured an interactive and engaging session which invited the participants to learn more about the traditions of the Beta Israel, many of which have been forgotten over the years.
“We must not erase our identity,” said Tshuma and Aviut (two gap year participants). “We need to be brave and continue to explore it. We have to bring this story and these dilemmas to others. Most importantly, we must not walk out of this seminar and leave these questions behind. We need to take them with us and let them guide us in our day to day.”
In addition to delving into the history of the Ethiopian Jewish community, the seminar also asked participants to reflect on challenges and dilemmas the community faces today in Israel. Participants were empowered to be proud of their identity, to choose to be leaders in educating about the community’s history as well as to work to fight discrimination.
At the end of the seminar, the participants are invited to take part in a gap year program next year to be community educators and to act upon the values they talked about at the seminar.
"I am going to join the gap year program together with my friends Esther, Yasu, Chaim Elias and Revital. I want all of us to start leading for change," writes Aviva, a twelfth grader from Petah Tikva.