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Migration and Assimilation of Ethiopian Jews

The migration of Ethiopian Jewry from Ethiopia to Israel is unparalleled in the annals of history. Almost 3000 years ago ancestors of Ethiopian Jews migrated from Israel to Egypt under a treaty between the kings of Egypt and Israel. Persecution by Christians and Muslims later forced them to remote corners of Ethiopia. Ever since then, they have dreamed of returning. In the 1860's thousands of Jews tried to walk from Ethiopia to Zion but were forced to turn back by hardships along the way. At brief times when emigration restrictions were relaxed, in 1984 and 1991, over twenty thousand Jews were flown from Sudan and Ethiopia to their ancestral homeland in Israel.

There are currently about 105,000 Jews of Ethiopian origin living in Israel. The transition from a mostly agricultural society to a technological, bureaucratic society has faced them with many difficult cultural, educational, and social challenges. For the last twenty years the Israeli government, along with a great number of social organizations have tried to facilitate the transition and overcome those challenges. Yet the gap is widening between the general Israeli population and the Ethiopian Israeli community, which is in danger of becoming a marginalized underclass. We can help avoid this by directly supporting the Ethiopian Israeli community at this critical juncture.

"Bahalachin," the Ethiopian Jewish Heritage and Cultural Center, was created in 1996 as a grassroots organization by Ethiopian Jews for Ethiopian Jews. It is an Israeli non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the traditional Ethiopian-Jewish culture and identity. (Bahalachin is a word that means "our culture" in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia). Among the projects Bahalachin operates are: a family counseling program administered by community elders, in cooperation with Chief Rabbinate; a project for inputting a complete oral tradition of genealogies into a computer database; a museum of the Ethiopian Jewish experience and community to be built in Jerusalem; an Ensemble of performers who preserve the Amharic-language musical tradition of Ethiopian Jewry; a project for recording prayers in the ancient Ge'ez language; adjustment classes for those who have recently been moved out of Absorption centers into regular apartments; a collection of museum-quality artifacts regularly lent to other organizations arranging Ethiopian-Jewish related events; and an English language and identity program for high-school students.

The Bahalachin organization is in dire need of funds to continue operating, and by helping them through the next year, we will be joining in their historic work. To raise funds for Bahalachin's operations, the Bahalachin Ensemble is touring South Florida. The purposes of this event are (a) raising awareness in the U.S. of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel, and (b) encouraging contributions for their assistance. Supporting "Bahalachin" means supporting the traditional Ethiopian Jewish culture, and is one of the most efficient and effective ways we can encourage and strengthen the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

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