Delegation to North Shewa By Rabbi Yefet Alemu
Religious Delegation to North Shewa
October 21 – 30 / 2021
Rabbi Alemu Aytegeb(Yafet) and Mr Derje Reta
· Getting to understand and developing relationships with community of Beta Israel of North Shewa.
· Initiate development of a Jewish community in Debre Berhan that is interested in returning to their Jewish Roots
· Initiate development of community organization to work with.
· Introduction to members of community in Kechene
Questions for Delegation to investigate:
· Need to define and determine how does the community define themselves?
· Do they define themselves as beta Israel as Jewish or something else
· What is the source of their definition as beta Israel/ Jewish
· How are they defined by themselves?
· what is their self identity?
· what is the identity they have from others?
· How do they call themselves and how do people around call this group?
· How does the local authority see them?
· It is known that Jews are Beta Israel, and it is known that there was a huge population that was Christianized.
· When was disconnections between the community and the beta Israel of Gondar?
· What type of characteristics or symbols does the community have the brings them into Jewish thinking?
· For example holidays, customs, purity following menstruation,
· What type of practices are there?
· When was connection redone?
· Did they know about the immigration of Beta Israel to Israel, why did they not try to write themselves?
· Why only now did they reveal their association with Beta Israel?
· Do they have oral or written historical records, similar to community in Gondar?
· Is there any genealogy which shows the connection to Judaism?
· Is there a spiritual leadership in the community?
· What is the history of the community?
Meeting with Mesfin and Teferawerk
Introduction and discussion. Desire was expressed to have Shabbat with Jews in Kechene and to deliver to the public in a synagogue about Leh-licha of our father Abirham from Orcasdim to cannan and create the first covenant between Abirham and our Lord which is the roots of Judaism. General positive reaction.
Visit to pottery workshop with Mesfin and Teferawerk.
General observation that people are working hard under dangerous conditions. Issue of smoke and large amount of co2 that can danger the life of mothers who works there, and put risk on the babies who are in the next room and waiting for their mother. Poor working conditions with very beautiful results.
Women workers discussed the dangers of being from Beta Israel. That they suffer from severe racial discrimination, they live distinct from the locals and don't marry them.
One of the residents said that Christians are those who worship the cross. I made and they treat me in a derogatory way and no logic why such hate to us. We do not marry with them and do not have social connection beside commercial connection. I do not have logical explanation for these hate reds to our community. They use our hand crafts but treats us rudely and there is no logical explanation that can convince any humane.
As part of that day's tour, we saw two enclosures of a closed synagogue next to a Church of the Missionaries. The church looked cleaner and brighter and better made. The church has an Israeli flag and it also says "Beit Avraham". I asked why the church had an Israeli flag and also the name of the Church is Beit Avraham? The answer is to confuse the public who lives around and to convince them to come to their congregations. They convince people to come to them and the missionaries grow up than majority Jew. If there will not be intervention of pushing Judaism to the community it can disappear in the future.
The missionaries are more popular in the young generation and it is a threat to the traditions of the Kechene Jews.
Mesfin: “it is a difficult challenge and the community alone will not overcome, we need the support of the world Jewish in a strong and smart way”
Many people have joined a cause to abolish Judaism and that is serous and the first problem of the Jewish community from North Shewa.
Issue of Religious politics
An issue was raised of what kind of Jew we are?
Following the tour we returned to the hotel to prepare for Shabbat and to provide a sermon at the synagogue. No one showed up.
Mesfin arrived to explain that there was refusal to the synagogue for us and the synagogue was closed on Shabbat. We ended up having a Shabbat dinner with Mesfin and his small family. we sang Shabbat songs, birchat hamazone that we held in Hebrew and Amharic as we did in the past in Ethiopia.
Shabbat we prayed Shacharit in the hotel just the two of us and Saturday night we did Abdulla with Mesfin.
9.30am we left Addis Abeba to Debre Berhan, Alemu, Dreje and Mefine and arrived at the GETVA Hotel by 1 pm. At 5pm on a very cold evening we met with a group of older people, young women and men together in an open area (the place is called a meeting of fathers that the religious leader from Gedam meets with community leaders 3 times a year to listen to the communities' problems connected with them believes).
Introductions and discussion on the journey of Jews from Gondar to Israel. A comparison between the exodus from Egypt with the exodus of Ethiopia, and especially walking in the desert with the intention of reaching Eretz Israel. Today there are over 170,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel.
- To get to know the people here and to learn about thier history, how you came here to the North Shewa? who tey are, how they are different from other people who live around here in north Shewa?
The meeting demonstrated the lack of secured place for assembly in order to talk about Jewish content openly.
Questions from the group asked how we can help and that in the past Israelis visited and promised but there have been no results. Our answer was clear that we can only transfer the questions of the people and the need of Jewish education here to the Jewish world.
Question: how do you define yourself?
They answered that they are Beta-Israel and believe that their grandparents came from the area of Gondar Amhara zone during king Sahele Silase the grandfather of king minilik2. King Sahilesilase’s mother was a Jew and he brought a lot of Jews and settled them around north Shewa.
All the Royal construction in the new capital of Ankobar was done by the Jews who came with him. This condition attracted many Jews to leave Gondar and to join to North Shewa. Many Jews left Gondar regime and came to Shewa as such the population became more even majority.
We are Beta-Israel but we are different from our ancestors because we had very bad condition after king minilik. Many Jews were killed by king Zere Yakob' he urged people to convert by force or face death. Hence people hide their Judaism and moved to different places where people did not know their religion. They live like everyone else here but are still treated differently, life foreigners.
Question: what do you think now when you come back to Jewish life then what will happen to you vs social environment?
Answer: We want to ask the world Jew to help us to come back to our root of Judaism openly and stand with us. Now the world is more opened and if we stand with world Jewry nobody will break us. Now we have Jewish state that can help us against hate of Jews.
There is a desire to live just like everyone else and to learn and renew Jewish life. Up to now the elders keep the religion in secret in Gedams.
We work in blacksmith jobs and produce plows and every tool for agricultural work in Ethiopia. It is our profession that holds Ethiopia's traditional agriculture, but this too keeps us away from communities who are not Beta-Israel.
Dreje responds and says maybe give up this profession? Everyone's laughing, and they say we inherited from our ancestors, how we can leave? Also, it is the backbone of Ethiopian agriculture!! we never going to leave it, it is our symbol of Judaism, symbol knowledge and only for Jewish people has got such knowledge and no one in this country.
One of the participants again said to us, a lot of people came from Israel and America and promised to help us to rise up our factory and to produce more and to be make money and that would give us economic power but up to now nothing has happened. Today the missionaries come and offer all who demand help and you only need to accept Jesus. Now it is harder for us to stand against these missioners because they come with economic support and without your help (Jewish world) we may not remain as Jew for the next generations, so help us to develop our traditional factories to more modern and we will be proud of our Jewish identities and build our Jewish Israeli identity. Or leave us and let us see our future as it is.
Pictures of missionaries’ house
Tour of traditional factories: blacksmiths, ironwork pottery tools, etc. Conversation with workers to learn more about the community
We had a meeting with a young man who had fled from another village where gentiles tried to kill him, he beat them and ran away to save himself and he heard that his parents had been murdered by those gentiles because he had run away from them. He had two sisters and they (the two sisters went to the police and complained about their parents and the chief of local police told for girls :" let you stop your evil eye action and stop doing bad action against people" and then the harmful attacks against your community will stop alone. So, without any help, even they were verry hearted and helpless, they returned home and only had to cry and there was no any one who can save human rights in that area.
The pictures of the person that his parents had killed because of antisemitism
At noon that day we met with a number of elder people from three Gedams, we learned from them about the Gedams. The Gedam is a special place that when people get older or feel unhappy in their life they go to that place made special statement of coming back to their fore fathers belief. So Infront of older people in the Gedam they declare that they leave the part of life they had and remain there separating from their families. The Gedams are called the forefathers house, in fact it is a special place, old peoples are leaving there. The Gedams are also called the house of our ancestral Avraham Yitzchak and Yaakov where their sprit dwells.
Thus, at the end of their life they behaved like Beta Israel and die as a Jew. We learn that they are born Jews, because they do the ceremony of circumcision and keep the 40 days in a nida room when a son is born and when a daughter is born then 80 days being in a nida room and returning home after a purification. This ceremony was one of significant part of Jewish life in Ethiopian before the immigration to Israel. we know Ethiopian Jew preform the life of biblical Jew .
This situation is known in Tora.
We can understand that they borne Jewish, live like gentile during their life and die as Jew when they become older.
Pictures of our meeting with leaders of Gedam and Debre Berhan
There is a need to establish activities that start with young and influence the lives of young people and build a new generation which is based on the modern Jewish tradition and incorporates a local tradition that is appropriate to the Torah.
To this end, the leader people must be active and willing to work together in the community center that will be start to work. There is a need for a center that will be the main address for the entire area of north Shewan Jews, here in Debre Berhan city.
October 26, 2001,
Visit to Gedam Gizo, Alemu, Derge, Mesfin, Antene and the head of the Gedam.
The drive from Debre Berhan followed a 4 hour walk to Gizo. There was a warm welcome and a meal upon arrival. We received an explanation of the place, for what purpose was the gedam , since when? In the gedam there is a house of prayer, special and faced a house of Nida and most of the people are old people, they have farm lands where they cultivate different plants like tef, wheat sorghum etc. They have animals like cows, bulls, sheeps etc. Next to their village there is a big river that crosses the gorge and uses them for drinking and of course purification.
About the question of how old is the gedan?
It was explained to us that for almost two hundred years the gedam has existed, and the main purpose of the gedam is to keep the religion of our ancestors secretly from those who wants abolish our believe and from those that simply hates of our being Israel.
They do not know why the Christian people hates them and fight against them for all of the generations.
We were told that the Gedams are built in this hidden place so that no one would come and disturb them. It is a secret place of the whole house of Israel where they prey freely and talk with G-d without fear of gentiles. The places where they are fulfilling their faith according to their fathers.
These fathers have a lot of information about the history north Shewa.
A seminar was held with young adults and women in Debra Berhan that focused on understanding the covenant of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. About 65 people attended, each received 200 biרr to compensate for their working day.
During the seminar, a discussion about the missionaries was raised. The missionaries built a church in their neighborhood, and take the children and give them candies and other gifts. It is becoming more difficult for the children to stay away from the church and if there is no support in education from the Jewish word than the young generation will not continue with the identity and will dismiss the whole history of the Jews of North Shewa.
The missionaries have strengthened their activities following the rumors of Jews from America arriving in Debre Berhan. The missionaries are looking to prevent a return to the Jewish roots.
In the evening we met with 20 students at the Tziranat grass where I taught them about the Torah and we also sang together. The kids asked about Jesus and there has to be made a distinction between Christians and Jews.
Upon returning to Addis there was a request to get the different fractions together in Kechene to discuss the situation. Surprisingly, the leaders of Kechene refused to meet with us. Teferawork stated that the leaders are not willing to meet with Conservative and Reform Jews and that was the end and we also understood the politics. Someone told them that if they meet with us as the representative of conservative/reform Jew then they will not be considered real Jews and will not have a chance to immigrate to Israel for the future.
Following the return to Israel, the following conclusions and next steps have been defined.
1. The communities of Kechene are currently not ready or willing to be part of a program related to traditional and religious education. There is too much pressure from outside parties and misinformation related to conservative and reform Judaism.
2. we recommended to establish a community center in Debra Berhan that will include a synagogue, rooms for Hebrew and Torah study in the evening, guest rooms and a hall for religious ceremonies.
3. The community center should also include offices for administration, for the center’s manager, for the Rabbi, a secretary and room for registration of the population who see themselves Jew.
4. This center will serve as a center for all Jews who live in north Shewa. It will serve the surrounding communities and will be an address for all of those who belong to this community. The center needs a director, a rabbi / teacher of Judaism, a secretary and 2 guards.
5. Resources, there must be fund raiser and all Jewish organization must take place in order to save these people. We need a paper of a call for rescue of martyred Jew in north Shewa of Ethiopia.
6. It is recommended for the center to include income generating activities to enable a source of funding that is sustainable.