This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
With the recent news about the imminent emigration to Israel of another batch of Ethiopian Jews, known as the Falashas, some people have begun to wonder if Ethiopia will have any Jews left at all. It is believed that Jews have inhabited Ethiopia for more than 2 years, most
likely preceding !hristians, the first of whom is known to have e"isted in the country in the #rd !entury $%. &hey have lived in outlying village community clusters in the northern highlands, most of them not far from one of Ethiopia's old capitals, (ondar. &he e"istence of a community of black $frican Jews has been intriguing to historians and ethnologists. )ome people, who believe that Jews are 'white' have been disturbed by the e"istence of the Falashas, and it was only in *+,# that the religious leadership in Israel accepted the Ethiopians as Jews. &his community, uni-ue in sub )aharan $frica, refers to itself as '.ete Israel', or 'the /ouse of Israel.' &he name Falasha, derived from the $mharic word that means migration, is not appreciated by the group. $s Ethiopia gradually began to enter the modern world, so news about the .ete Israelites started to reach outsiders. $s members of the community learnt of the modern e"istence of Israel and the hope it held for them, they yearned increasingly to 'go home' although visibly they resembled their non0Jewish Ethiopian compatriots more than they did any other Jewish group. )ince the *+, s, .ete Israelites have been migrating to Israel, first in a trickle, and later on in *+12 and *++* in two ma3or human movements that took more than 4 , people to the /oly 5and. )ince *++*, travelling to Israel assumed a more normal and paced character, highlighted only by the pressure from another category of Ethiopians, who claimed that they had been forced to change their religion. &he 'Feres 6ora', as they are known, have added their
numbers to the Jews moving to Israel in the midst of controversy in that country regarding their bona fides. It is believed that the numbers of both categories that have left Ethiopia has reached some * , persons. &his would indicate that the .ete Israelites currently in Ethiopia could not be more than a few thousand souls 0 some say that the figure could be in the hundreds. What does this migration mean, and what are its implications7 $lthough the migration has not been a sub3ect of public debate, many Ethiopians regret the transplanting of an Ethiopian community en masse to a foreign land, and feel a sense of cultural loss. While people recognise that the migration was a voluntary one, it is felt by non0Jewish Ethiopians that it was a -uest for economic opportunity, rather than a spiritual calling, that attracted the community to Israel. $fter all, they lived a life of poverty in their communities in Ethiopia. &he .ete Israelites strongly re3ect that view, and argue that, like other Jews from other parts of the world, Israel is their home, and it is their right to migrate there. Whatever the case, what is very real is that Judaism has left more of a legacy than a living community in Ethiopia, while Israel has added one more ''feather to its 8ethnic mosaic9 hat''. &he implications for both Ethiopia and Israel of the presence of these black Jews in Israel remain to be fully e"amined. &he community has yet to make a political impact in Israel. $lthough conditions are changing, the Ethiopian Jews remain at the bottom of the economic ladder in their new country, and have borne the brunt of racist attitudes and actions originating from certain sectors of Israeli society. :et the younger ones are markedly visible, manning Israeli
checkpoints and are obviously discharging their obligations to the )tate of their current allegiance. Whether the .ete Israelites are to evolve into a powerful constituency for Ethiopia in Israel remains to be seen. ;bviously it is the older generation, and the one least integrated in Israel, that has the strongest links with the old country. It appears that the youth, far from Ethiopia and culturally uncomfortable in Israel, are connecting more with the rap and reggae music culture of the $frican %iaspora. .ut the language and message of reggae evokes the images of imperial Ethiopia, ensuring that Ethiopian Jews 8or black Israelis9 do not stray far from their roots. It will be interesting to follow developments in the evolution of this remarkable $frican community striving to make its mark in the bubbling political world of the 6iddle East, particularly what role it could play in the future that could be of benefit to $frica as a whole and Ethiopia in particular. Hiruy Amanuel, ICPAT, Addis Ababa