Monday, July 15, 2013

Two Ethiopian Communities. One Israeli Identity.

- Written by Amber

Replicas of Falash Mura homes found in  Ethiopia stand
at the absorption center in Mavassaret Zion to give new
olim a sense of familiarity in their new surroundings
in Israel
By the end of this summer, several thousand members of the Falash Mura Jewish community in Ethiopia will have made aliya to Israel, closing the chapter on their two-millennia existence in the ancient and biblical kingdom of Cush. Jewish history in Ethiopia is as beautiful and complex as it is long, and Ethiopian Jewry have seen the kingdom transform into the predominately Christian country of Ethiopia today. As ENP gears up resources to track the integration progress of this incoming community, ENP Director General Roni Akale found time to sit down and explain the rich and complex culture of the Falash Mura. The ambiguous etymology of this term is as complex and fascinating as the culture the Falash Mura are bringing to an already diverse Israeli society.

The aliya stories of members of the Ethiopian Jewish community called the Beta Israel are the most well-known to the Jewish Diaspora. The community’s trek across the Sudan during the 1980s in efforts to reach Zion is both unbelievable and valiant. The complex history of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia, however, is still being introduced to global Jewry, and their experience in Ethiopia is much different from their Beta Israel brethren.

Donated by ENP, this embroidered tapestry was woven by
Beta Israel men en route to Israel through Sudan
during the 1980s
While touring the recent Ethiopia exhibit with ENP staff and volunteers at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv – an exhibit that featured a beautifully embroidered tapestry donated by ENP – I learned that the Beta Israel existed for centuries as an autonomous community in and near the northern province of Gondar, Ethiopia. Self-segregated from the heavily Christianized Ethiopian society, The Beta Israel practiced a culturally-unique form of Judaism for millennia, and managed to develop and sustain their practices and torah-observance during this expansive time period. The Falash Mura, however, endured a different fate. Once a part of Beta Israel, this community outwardly joined the dominant Christian, Amharic-speaking communities of Ethiopia a century ago, and sometimes under coercive circumstances -- either threats of violence or crippling discrimination. However, they maintained many Judaic practices, customs, and identity in secret, almost always intermarrying with one another as to preserve their Jewish identity and unique cryptic culture.

The Falash Mura's cryptic existence is not exceptional to the Jewish experience in the world. Some Ashkenazi Jews in Europe prior and during World War II adopted Christianity in attempts to survive the genocide of the Holocaust. Cryptic communities found in  parts of Africa, Portugal, the Caribbean and South America, and the United States are descendants of Sephardic Jews who were victims of the Spanish Inquisition, and who were forced to partially adapt to the religion of their host countries to survive.

Today in Israel, both the Beta Israel and Falash Mura make up the 150,000 plus Ethiopian-Israeli community, and the Ethiopia exhibit in Tel Aviv was an excellent way for museum-goers to learn more about the incredible social and religious history of Ethiopia. Once separated by circumstance in their host country, the Beta Israel and Falash Mura are becoming united once more under one unified Israeli identity.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Experience Volunteering

My group was placed in an absorption center in Mevaseret Tzion. I had never been to an absorption center of any kind, so I didn't know what to expect. The building was smaller than I thought it would be, and when we got there, the girls had just finished a morning prayer session and were about to begin a Hebrew lesson. The first day was a little hard for me because my Hebrew is not good, so I had some trouble understanding the teacher as well a connecting with the girls. The day got better as it went on because we spent the first day just having conversations with the girls about their family, their lives, and things they like to do. We practiced asking questions and giving responses in English.
From then on, or group of 4 volunteers from ENP spent our time at the center working with the same group of 3-6 girls. Since the classrooms were already being used by other groups, we moved our lessons to a picnic table outside. We kept our activities short, so that the girls wouldn't get bored. We played a lot of games with the girls that helped improve their English vocabulary such as charades, pictionary, and other word matching activities. From working with the girls, I realized that they are so smart and that they have so much to teach us. They have only lived in Israel for a few years yet their Hebrew is very good. Not only that, but a lot of them do know basic English, and a few of them can even write and spell in English. I was very impressed with this, and I have a feeling that their English will greatly improve throughout the rest of the summer. I really enjoyed working with the girls and I wish we had more time with them.

-- Abby