Ethiopian Jews in Israel
1.75% of the Israeli population
|Hebrew · Amharic · Tigrinya|
|Judaism (Haymanot · Rabbinism)|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Falash Mura · Beta Abraham|
Today Israel is home to the largest Beta Israel community in the world with about 121,000 citizens of Ethiopian descent in 2009, who are mainly assembled in the smaller urban areas of central Israel.
- 1 History
- 2 Absorption in Israel
- 3 Demography
- 4 Culture
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
First wave (1934-1960)
Second wave: (1961–1975)
Between the years 1963 and 1975 a relatively small group of Beta Israel emigrated to Israel. The Beta Israel immigrants in that period were mainly very few men who have studied and came to Israel on a tourist visa and then remained in the country illegally.
Several of their supporters in Israel, who recognized their "Jewishness" decided to assist them. These supporters began organizing in associations, among others under the direction of Ovadia Hazzi, an Eritrean born Yemeni Jew and former sergeant in the Israeli army. Several of those illegal immigrants managed to get a regularization with the Israeli authorities through the assistance of these support associations. Some agreed to "convert" to Judaism, which helped them regulated their personal status and remain in Israel. People who get their regularization often brought their families to Israel as well.
In 1973, Ovadia Hazzi officially raised the question of the "Jewishness" of the Beta Israel to the Israeli Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. The rabbi, who cited a rabbinic ruling from the 16th century David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra and asserted that the Beta Israel are descended from the lost tribe of Dan, and eventually acknowledged their "Jewishness" in February 1973. This ruling was initially rejected by the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren, who eventually changed his opinion on the matter in 1974.
In April 1975, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin officially accepted the Beta Israel as Jews, for the purpose of the Law of Return (An Israeli act which grants all the Jews in the world the right to immigrate to Israel).
Later on, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin obtained clear rulings from Chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that they were descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel did however initially require them to undergo pro forma Jewish conversions, to remove any doubt as to their Jewish status.
Third Wave: (1975–1990)
- November 1979 – 1983: aliyah activists and Mossad agent operating in Sudan called Beta Israel to come to Sudan and from Sudan via Europe they will taken to Israel. While they were pose as Ethiopian refugees from the Ethiopian Civil War, Beta Israel began to arrive to the refugee camps in Sudan. Most Beta Israel came from Tigray and Wolqayt, regions that were controlled by the TPLF which often escorted them to the Sudanese border.
- 1983–March 28, 1985: this emigration wave was in part motivated by word to mouth reports on the success of the emigration of many Jewish refugees to Israel. In 1983 the governor of Gondar region, Major Melaku Teferra was ousted as governor and his successor removed restrictions on travel. Beta Israel began to arrive in large numbers and the Mossa did not manage to evacuate them in time. Following the of poor conditions in camps, many refugees died of disease and hunger. Among these victims, it is estimated that between 2,000 to 5,000 were Beta Israel. In late 1984, the Sudanese government, following the intervention of the United States, allowed the emigration of 7,200 Beta Israel refugees to Europe who immediately flew from there to Israel. There two immigration waves were: Operation Moses (original name "The Lion of Judah’s Cub") which took place between November 20, 1984, until January 20, 1985, during which 6,500 people emigrated to Israel. This operation was followed by the a few weeks later, which was conducted by the U.S. Air Force, in which the 494 Beta Israel refugees remaining in Sudan were evacuated to Israel. The second operation was mainly carried out due to the intervention and international pressure very important of the United States.
Fourth Wave (1990–1999)
- 1991 (Operation Solomon): In 1991, the political and economic stability of Ethiopia deteriorated, as rebels mounted attacks against and eventually controlled the capital city of Addis Ababa. Worried about the fate of the Beta Israel during the transition period, the Israeli government along with several private groups prepared to continue covertly with the migration. Over the course of the next 36 hours, a total of 34 El Al passenger planes, with their seats removed to maximize passenger capacity, flew 14,325 Beta Israel non-stop to Israel. Again, the operation was mainly carried out due to the intervention and international pressure of the U.S.
- 1992–1999: During these years, the Qwara Beta Israel emigrated to Israel.
- 1993–present: From 1993 onwards, an irregular emigration began of Falash Mura, which was and still is mainly subjected to political developments in Israel.
Absorption in Israel
Ethiopian Beta Israel are gradually becoming part of the mainstream Israeli society in religious life, military service (with nearly all males doing national service), education, and politics. Similarly to other groups of immigrant Jews, who made aliyah to Israel, the Ethiopian Beta Israel have faced obstacles in their integration to Israeli society. The Ethiopian Beta Israel community's internal challenges have been complicated by racist attitudes on the part of some elements of Israeli society and the official establishment.
One study found that some of the problems with the absorption of the Beta Israel was due to the model of absorption chosen.
Planning for the absorption of Jewish immigrants to Israel has been dominated by a procedural approach, which has generally been insensitive to the particular circumstances and needs of minority ethnic groups. This approach has emphasised the ‘national interest’ as defined by the dominant group, namely Ashkenazi Jews, whose diaspora was in Central Europe. The social and cultural traditions of other groups have been treated as ‘problems’ that need to be overcome, and minimal attention has been given to the processes of adaptation such groups undergo.
Most of the 100,000 Ethiopian Beta Israel living in Israel are immigrants and descendants of two main waves, the first in 1981–1984 and the second in 1991. These airlifts were known as Operation Moses and Operation Solomon, respectively. Civil war and famine in Ethiopia prompted the Israeli government to mount these dramatic rescue operations. The rescues were within the context of Israel's national mission to gather Diaspora Jews and bring them to the Jewish homeland.
Individual Ethiopian Beta Israel had lived in Eretz Yisrael prior to the establishment of the state. A youth group arrived in Israel in the 1950s to undergo training in Hebrew education and returned to Ethiopia to educate young Beta Israeli community members there. Also, Ethiopian Beta Israel had been trickling into Israel prior to the 1970s. The numbers of such Ethiopian immigrants grew after the Israeli government officially recognized them in 1973 as Jews, entitled to Israeli citizenship.
To prepare for the absorption of tens of thousands of Ethiopian Beta Israel, the State of Israel prepared two `Master Plans’ (Ministry of Absorption, 1985, 1991). The first was prepared in 1985, a year after the arrival of the first wave of immigrants. The second updated the first in response to the second wave of immigration in 1991 from Ethiopia. The first Master Plan contained an elaborate and detailed program. It covered issues of housing, education, employment and practical organization, together with policy guidelines regarding specific groups, including women, youths, and single -parent families. Like earlier absorption policies, it adopted a procedural approach which assumed that the immigrants were broadly similar to the existing majority population of Israel. The Plans were, no doubt, created with good intentions and a firm belief in assimilation. As noted in this section, results have been disappointing and suggest that much greater attention needs to be paid to issues of ethnicity.
According to a November 17, 1999 BBC article, a report commissioned by Israel's Ministry of Immigrant Absorption stated that 75% of the 70,000 Ethiopian Beta Israel community, living in Israel in 1999 could not read or write Hebrew. More than half the population could not hold a simple conversation in the Hebrew language. Unlike Russian immigrants, many of whom arrive with job skills, Ethiopians came from a subsistence economy and were ill-prepared to work in an industrialized society. Since then much progress has been made. Through military service most Ethiopian Beta Israel have been able to increase their chances for better opportunities. . Today most Ethiopian Beta Israel have been for the most part integrated into Israeli society, however a high drop out rate is a problem, although a higher number are now edging towards the higher areas of society.
In September, 2006, the Israeli government's proposed 2007 budget included reducing Ethiopian immigration from 600 persons per month to 150. On the eve of the Knesset vote, the Prime Minister's office announced that the plan had been dropped. Advocates for the Falash Mura noted that although the quota was set at 600 per month in March, 2005, actual immigration has remained at 300 per month.
The first contact with Israel generally led to a culture shock amongst many of the new immigrants. Many of the Beta Israel immigrants, especially those who came from remote villages in Ethiopia, had never used electricity, elevators or televisions. In addition, the adaptation to the Israeli food was initially particularly difficult.
The breakup of many of the close and extended families after being brought to the various integration centers in Israel, as well as the initial integration with the Israeli society was very difficult for many of the new immigrants. Name changing also caused a symbolic break with the new immigrants' past. The Israeli authorities originally gave many of the new immigrants Hebrew given names, Hebrew names, and required them all to have family names, which did not exist in the Ethiopian society. These name changes created a two tier system, in which old and new names were used by the new immigrants. the immersion with the Hebrew language was not easy for the new immigrants, and the majority of the new immigrants never managed to master the language, even after living many years in Israel, resulting in a strong social marginalization. Finally, the questioning of their traditional religious practices by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel led to great confusion amongst the new immigrants.
Various Israeli sociologists have noted a variety of adjustment issues which the new immigrants were confronted by, which resulted in acute psychological problems and even occurrences of suicides amongst a minority group of immigrants in the first years after immigrating to Israel. In the late 1980s, the proportion of suicides among the Beta Israel community surpassed that of all the other communities in Israel until this rate declined.
Many Haredim (ultra orthodox) still do not recognize the Beta Israel community as Jews or even Israelites (the tribe of Dan, according to one of the origin versions of Beta Israel community), not just those from the Falash Mura Christian community.
Regarding religious leadership, 60 Kessim (priests) of the Ethiopian immigrants in Israel arew employed by the Ministry of Religious Services, and many of them conduct religious ceremonies in Israel. They are however not recognized as rabbis and do not have the authority to perform marriages. Nevertheless, a new generation of rabbis of Ethiopian origin trained in Israel are gradually taking over.
The biggest challenge to the Israeli Ethiopian Beta Israel community probably lies in the very low level of formal education of the immigrants. With few exceptions, when they first arrived to Israel they had no useful training for a developed economy like that of Israel, and in addition to that they did not know Hebrew. Due to the oral nature of rural living in Ethiopia, illiteracy was very common (according to one estimate, 90% among adults aged 37 and above), although young people were better educated and a minority group amongst the Beta Israel immigrants did attend secondary schools in Ethiopia. Regarding the recent immigration of Falash Mura, NGOs (such as the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry) have attempted to provide those who have been waiting for years in Ethiopia their immigration basic useful training for immigrants in Israel, as well as basic common concepts in Hebrew. Nevertheless, it is estimated that circa 80% of adult Falash Mura become unemployed in Israel.
Due to the significant difference between the qualifications of the Beta Israel community and the needs of the Israeli companies, high unemployment is common among the immigrants: In 2005 the unemployment rate was 65% amongst those over the age of 45. The younger generations born or who have grown up in Israel are more successful in being absorbed into Israeli economy, especially due to receiving modern education, although the average rate of educated people amongst the Beta Israel community is still smaller than that of the general Jewish youth, and this factor delays the emergence of a larger middle class group of Ethiopian origin in the Israeli society. Despite that, in 2005, 3000 students graduated of higher education institutions, and 1,500 others graduated at the university. Nevertheless, even the academic graduates often experience trouble finding a job.
The low educational attainment, the very modest standard of living, and the occasionally degraded or isolated habitat—these set of circumstances relate and may in many times explain the development of delinquency among the Beta Israel youth: in 2005 its rate was three times higher than the rate of the other Israeli youth.
The absorption of Ethiopians in Israeli society represents an ambitious attempt to deny the significance of race. Israeli authorities, aware of the situation of most African diaspora communities in other Western countries, hosted programs to avoid setting in patterns of discrimination. The Ethiopian Beta Israel community's internal challenges have been complicated by racist attitudes on the part of some elements of Israeli society and the official establishment.
Racist attitudes, or prejudice, do tend to still occasionally occur in the Israel towards the Beta Israel community, especially where high concentrations of Beta Israel exist.
In 2004, racism was alleged regarding delays in admitting black Ethiopian Beta Israel to Israel under the Law of return. The delays in admitting Ethiopians may be attributed to religious motivations rather than racism, since there was debate whether or not Beta Israel people were indeed Jewish.
In 2005, racism was alleged when the mayor of Or Yehuda, refused to absorb Ethiopian immigrants in their communities, mainly due to fear of having the property of the town decrease in value or having an increase in crime.
In 2009 school children of Ethiopian ancestry were denied admission into three semi-private religious schools in the town of Petah Tikva. An Israeli government official criticized the Petah Tikva Municipality and the semi-private Haredi schools, saying "This concerns not only the three schools that have, for a long time, been deceiving the entire educational system. For years, racism has developed here undeterred". Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef threatened to fire any school principal from Shas's school system who refused to receive Ethiopian students. The Israeli Education Ministry decided to pull the funding from the Lamerhav, Da'at Mevinim and Darkei Noam schools, the three semi-private institutions that refused to accept the students. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against the rejection of Ethiopian children, calling it "a moral terror attack."
In 2010 Barry Rubin, the editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, said that while there have been some incidents in reaction to the arrival of Beta Israel from Ethiopia, these have been few and universally rejected.[full citation needed]
In 2012, Israel appointed the country's first Ethiopian-born ambassador, Beylanesh Zevadia. According to the foreign minister of Israel, this represents an important milestone in fighting racism and prejudice.
Blood donation controversy
On January 24, 1996, Ma'ariv newspaper revealed a Magen David Adom policy that drew heavy criticism in Israel and worldwide. According to the policy, which was not brought to the attention of the Israeli Ministry of Health or donors, blood donations received from Ethiopian immigrants and their offspring were secretly disposed of. A later public inquiry traced this back to a misinterpretation of an 1984 instruction to mark blood donations from Ethiopian immigrants due to a relatively high prevalence of HBsAg, indicative of Hepatitis B infections, in blood samples taken from this population.
A few days after the expose, ten thousand Beta Israel demonstrated in front the Office of the Prime Minister. The police force was surprised and unprepared for the violence that erupted, leading to policemen being injured by stones, sticks and steel rods. The police repelled the demonstrators with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas. 41 policemen and 20 demonstrators were injured, and 200 cars belonging to the employees of the Prime Minister's Office were damaged.
Tests conducted on 650 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated to Israel in 1984–1990 and 5,200 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated in 1990–1992 revealed no HIV carriers before July 1990.Nevertheless, among the 5,200 Ethiopian immigrants who immigrated during "Operation Solomon" there were 118 HIV carriers, who made up 2.3 percent of the test population.
The public outcry led to his dismissal of the CEO of MDA and the establishment of a commission of inquiry headed by former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon. After several months, the committee published its conclusions, calling for a change in policy. The Committee did not find evidence of racism, although some researchers have contested this.
On November 6, 2006, hundreds of Ethiopians clashed with police when protesters attempted to block the entrance to Jerusalem in the wake of the Israeli Health Ministry's decision to continue the MDA policy of disposing of donations from high risk groups.
To date, the MDA prohibits the use of blood donations from natives of sub-Saharan Africa, except South Africa, natives of Southeast Asia, natives of the Caribbean and natives of countries which have been widely affected by the AIDS epidemic, including donations from the natives of Ethiopia. Since 1991 all immigrants from Ethiopia undergo mandatory HIV screenings, regardless of their intention to donate blood.
Ethiopian-Israelis have been participating more in Israeli political life. The Atid Ekhad party sees itself as the political representative of the community, though other parties include Ethiopian members. In 2006, Shas, a party representing Haredi Jews of Sephardic and Middle Eastern background, included an Ethiopian rabbi from Beersheba, in its list for the Knesset in a conscious attempt to represent diverse geographic and ethnic groups.
Shas was not the only party attempting to appeal to the Ethiopian vote. Herut and Kadima both had Ethiopians on their lists. Shlomo Mula, head of the Jewish Agency's Ethiopian absorption department, was ranked 33 on Kadima's list and Avraham was number three on Herut's list.
Shas's spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, enthusiastically embraced Ethiopians when they first began immigrating to Israel four decades ago. Despite Rabbi Ovadia's halachic ruling, some refuse to marry Ethiopians without a conversion in accordance with official Chief Rabbinate policy. Only in cities and towns with rabbis that accept Ovadia's ruling or the ruling of Rabbi Shlomo Goren are Ethiopians married without immersion in a ritual bath (mikva) or, for men, hatafat dam, הטפת דם, see brit milah), the symbolic cut to produce a drop of blood instead of circumcision.
Some non-Jewish Ethiopians expressed bitterness towards the Beta Israel emigration out of Ethiopia. Others hope that the growing Ethiopian population in Israel will create stronger social and political connections between Ethiopia and Israel. Some Ethiopian Beta Israel community currently participate in Israeli politics.
The Ethiopian government is also an important ally of Israel on the international stage. Israel often sends expertise assistance for development projects in Ethiopia. Strategically, Israel "has always aspired to protect itself by means of a non-Arab belt that has included at various times Iran, Turkey and Ethiopia."
Birth control controversy
According to a TV program in 2012, female Ethiopian immigrants may have been given the Depo-Provera birth control drug without full explanation of its effects, although the Israeli health ministry has instructed all health maintenance organizations not to use the treatment unless patients understand the ramifications. Ethiopian Jewish women awaiting aliyah were given birth control while in transit camps. The drug has existed for around thirty years but only about five percent of women elect to use this method of birth control in the US. The effects of Depo-Provera last for three months.
The practice was first reported in 2010 by Isha le'Isha, an Israeli women’s rights organization. Hedva Eyal, the author of the report, stated: "We believe it is a method of reducing the number of births in a community that is black and mostly poor." 
Haaretz sharply criticized the coverage, alleging that there was no government plan to deliberately reduce the birth rates of Ethiopian Jews, and there was no coercion involved.
The following is a list of the 60 most significant Beta Israel population centers in Israel as of 2006:
||Beta Israel population
|| % of City Pop
The City of Kiryat Malakhi has a large concentration of Ethiopian Beta Israel, with 17.3% of the towns population being members of the Beta Israel.
|This section requires expansion. (November 2010)|
The main language used for communication among Israeli citizens and amongst the Ethiopian Beta Israel in Israel is Modern Hebrew.
The majority of the Beta Israel immigrants continue to mainly speak in Amharic (primarily) and Tigrinya at home with their family members and friends. The Amharic language and the Tigrinya language are written in the Ge'ez script, originally developed for the now-extinct Ge'ez language.
Ethiopian Heritage Museum
A museum highlighting the culture and heritage of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community is to be built in Rehovot. The museum, planned as a research, interpretive and spiritual center, is the brainchild of Tomer. This is an association of veteran Ethiopian immigrants and former Mossad agents who participated in the first operations to bring Ethiopian Beta Israel to Israel.
The Jews of Ethiopia have a rich cultural heritage, and are the only Jews who strictly kept their Judaism although they were entirely cut off from the Jewish people," said Tomer chairman Moshe Bar-Yuda. "The museum will present Ethiopian Jewish culture to Israelis who are not familiar enough with it, and also to young Ethiopians who fall between the cracks—on one hand they are not connected to their parents' culture, and on the other, they sometimes find it hard to become part of the dynamic of life in Israel. When they see the ancient culture of their forbears, they will be filled with pride, and it will be easier for them to become part of veteran Israeli society."
Plans for the museum, expected to cost some $4.5 million, include a model Ethiopian village, an herb garden, an artificial stream, an amphitheater, classrooms, and a memorial to both Ethiopian Beta Israel, who died in Sudan on their way to Israel, and Ethiopian Zionist activists. "We view the conservation of the past as very important and believe the museum will attract young people and adults alike," Rehovot Mayor Shuki Forer says.
Numerous Ethiopian Beta Israel live in Rehovot and surrounding towns, which is why it was chosen as the site of the museum. The city has set aside 6 dunams (6,000 m²), of land for the museum complex.
All 21 members of the Rehovot City Council, both coalition and opposition, voted for the establishment of the center," says Abai Zaudeh, a council member and a member of Tomer's board of directors. "It's the first time they all agree and leave politics behind to focus on the reality that the establishment of the museum will assist the absorption of the Ethiopian community a great deal.
One of the museum's founders was Baruch Tegegne, who pioneered escape routes from Ethiopia via Sudan and fought for the right of the Beta Israel community to emigrate to Israel. Other founders include veteran Ethiopian rights activist Babu Yaakov, a former member of the Ramle City Council, and Shetu Barehon, who worked in the transit camps in Sudan to bring Ethiopian Beta Israel to Israel. A number of Ethiopian Beta Israel spiritual leaders and rabbis are also working to increase support for the project in the community and the Diaspora.
Bar-Yuda's long association with the Ethiopian Beta Israel community began in 1958. The Jewish Agency asked him to go to Ethiopia to look for Jews and to reach remote villages. His report, together with a 16th Century ruling by Rabbi David B. Zimra, known as the Radbaz, was the basis for chief Sephardic rabbi Ovadia Yosef's determination in 1973 that the Beta Israel of Ethiopia were to be considered Jews according to halakha (Jewish religious law).
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Israelis of Ethiopian descent.|
- Beta Israel: Society and Culture - Ethiopian Jews
- Yopi - The Ethiopian Portal
- Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews