San Diego- Jewish people lived in Ethiopia since pre-Talmudic times. During all those years, they were called Falasha and Buda, which means foreigners. They had no right to land, to life, justice, or even the ability to sell their products at the market. All that is changing at an unimaginable pace.
Over the past few weeks, massive changes have happened that has never happened in the history of the Jews of Ethiopia and it all happened because 15 years ago, Jews of Ethiopia chose to stop hiding their Jewish identity and be proud of who they are.
In the past few weeks, as the Jews of Kechene fought COVID, they had the Israeli Ambassador visit them at their new synagogue through the efforts of Dr. Malka Shabtay, their representative and Hazan Michael Moges brought onto Israeli and Ethiopian newspapers and television, culminating in their leaders Balayne Tazebku being recognized by the municipality for the joint efforts by ENSZO (Ethiopian North Shewa Zionist Organization) and LOZA (Lovers of Zion Association) to fight and prepare for COVID.
These groups with help from a young Sintayehu Garedew, an Ethiopian engineer in the US, community of Our Jewish Story, coordination with CultivAID and Temple Israel Friends of Ethiopian Jews nonprofit umbrella, raised $4000 for 3000 masks, thermometers and masks through a unique GoFundMe campaign that provided funds for materials and mask-making, helping employ people in the community.
Jewish newspapers have yet to write about this, but in the world of Jewish News, for Ethiopians, this is not less important than the nineteenth-century Emancipation laws of Europe.
The next immediate steps for the community is to raise funds for more masks, sanitizers, washing stations, and food aid for the synagogues where elderly and orphans live on less than one meal a day. Long term plans include sanitization, water, and electricity in the Kechene suburb, books for a library, Sefer Torah, and their own burial ground.
When I met this group of Jews in 2012 working on my book about Jewish diaspora, they had a tiny synagogue in Kechene. Six years ago, they were alone, hunted by locals, their homes burned, their synagogues on the precipice of being taken over by Coptic Church, Messianic Jews trying to convert them and their young people like engineer Abraham Ben Teshome, whose body had to be buried in a far off forsaken Christian cemetery. Today, they are on stage with Ambassadors and on Ethiopian TV. A lot can happen with help from friends, a lot more with faith, diligence, and pride in who you are.
Photographs courtesy of Michael Moges of LOZA and Sintayehu Garadew.