THE JEWS OF NORTH SHEWA
by Rabbi Alemu Aytegeb-Yafet
Are there any Jews in Northern Shewa in Ethiopia?
If so, how they connected to Ethiopian Jews, who immigrated to Israel?
These are the questions, raised by Rabbi Natan Alfred in Jerusalem, when we first met. Since that first meeting, we have spent many hours, contemplating these complex issues relating to Ethiopian Jewry. These discussions, we hope will lay the framework for history, which will remain in place for future generations.
This subject has intrigued me for many years, capturing my attention already in my youth. I recall, during the time when I studied Torah under Kes Abe Barhan Baruch (equivalent to Rabbi), a most remarkable person and Zionist forerunner for the Ethiopian Jewish community in Ethiopia.
He used to say: "Most of the tribes of Israel are in Ethiopia, in different places and one day they will rise up and say, here we are, risen from the dust, God of Israel has awakened us from sleep".
This statement made me wonder, about the locations of other tribes lost, waiting to be found. Kes Abe Barhan Baruch, also pointed out that: "There are many Jews, who gave their lives for their faith in the God of Israel, because they are Jew". A phenomenon not unique to Ethiopia, but a statement that rings true worldwide.
Unlike others, I myself was lucky, having immigrated to Israel, I have worked to help others to follow me home to Israel. In my efforts, I have discovered that there is a problem with the institutions dealing with immigration of Ethiopian Jews.
People often seek me out, asking me to help them bring relatives from Ethiopia, home to Eretz Israel, by sending special letters to the Ministry of the Interior, requesting permission, as they themselves were unsuccessful. It is with great sadness and regret to say that even I, a citizen of Israel, am unable to receive any answer from the Ministry of the Interior.
How is it that the country, is unwilling to answer their own citizens?
The state of Israel, the Jewish State, OUR HOME, has an opaque wall.
The governing bodies, dealing with the Jewish Ethiopian immigration, are immediately opposed to the concept, without any discussion or further consideration. The result of this lack of interest to even contemplate the issue of Aliyah Bet Yisrael from Ethiopia, affects those who in the past had been willing to help. Now the topic, is simply exhausting even for someone who truly wants to assist, knowing their efforts will be met with a closed door.
Understanding, the current political disinterest in the topic and knowing the difficulty that lay ahead of me, I wondered about the Northern Shewa community's request for Aliyah. In order to prepare myself adequately for the obstacles that lie ahead, I decided to find out what the community really wanted and how exactly they defined themselves. I wanted to hear first-hand, directly from the people of Ethiopia, in their own words, face to face, not through letters or articles.
Thus, with the help of Dr. Tomer Malchi, the Executive Director of CultivAid, I was able to arrange phone conversations with some representatives in Ethiopia. It was truly a gift, to be able to speak directly with them, directly asking them their desires and needs. The answers to these questions, were two-fold. First, they expressed their desire to return to their roots in Judaism, especially the younger generation, who want to study Torah and the Prophets and second, the tradition of Israel.
Hearing this directly from the source, not through messengers, was very powerful for me. To understand that this is their desire, to become like the messengers of God and of Zionism, in order to bring them closer to Judaism. This simply consolidated my own desire, to do what I personally can, to help them fulfill their wish.
Personally, I am ready to take this responsibility on. Knowing I cannot take such a grand task alone, I, together with other friends, along with the support of the Jewish agencies, aim to build a fertile Jewish community. This unique Jewish community, be based in Ethiopia, will be a community for which in the future, like any other Jew in the world, its members will be able to immigrate to their rightful home, to Israel.
" God keeps faith forever, brings justice to the oppressed,
Provides food for the hungry,
Adoni frees the bound, Adoni gives light to the blind,
Adoni raises those who bound down and loves the just,
Adoni protects the stranger, supports the orphan and the widow,
But frustrates the designs of the wick,
Adoni shall reign through all generations,
Your God of Zion shall reign forever,
In order to move forward with the project, we must try to answer the questions raised above, but before this, we must first consider what commonalities are between the communities.
Specifically, we must find similarities between Ethiopians who have already immigrated to the land of Israel and those remaining there. Being that I am Ethiopian and have already immigrated to Israel, I am very interested in learning about and strengthening the roots of my Jewish breath, as well as for others like me.
There are many questions that surround the project, more basic questions such as:
Do we need this community to be created and function properly as Jewish community?
Who will be the one who decides for them?
Is there someone who will lead the community with the authority to make decisions?
These all, are some of the questions we have to consider and resolve with logical and sensible answers and solutions.
In my telephone conversation with the leaders of North Shewa community, I had asked them to describe to me how they define themselves. Interestingly, they replied that they are Jews, whose ancestors originated from Israel, specifically from the time of King Solomon. Now, for those who are not familiar, let me remind you of the history.
In 982 BC, Queen of Sheba visited King Solomon. She brought valuable gifts to the King, such as gold and precious stones. A friendship developed, leading to a romantic encounter from which she conceived a son named "Ibna Ilaim", meaning son of the wise and later, referred to as Manilek the First.
The Queen of Sheba, heard about the fame of Solomon, his wisdom and his relationship to God. Therefore, she visited him with the purpose to test him with hard questions. She arrived in Jerusalem with a very great retinue, of which included camels curing spices, large quantities of gold and precious stones.
When she came to King Solomon, she asked him all that she had in mind. For which the King had answers for each one of her questions. The Queen of Sheba was overwhelmed by his great wisdom and quite impressed by his palace, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers and the burnt offerings which he made at the Temple of the Lord.
She said to the King: "The report I heard in my own land about your wisdom is true".
To show her awe, she then bestowed upon the King, a huge amount of presents which she had brought with her from her land. Hence, King Solomon gave in return to the Queen of Sheba, all she desired and asked for, in addition to what he have given her out of his royal bounty.
She stayed in Jerusalem for (6) six months, before she and her attendants left to return to her own land.
King Solomon, reigned from 970-931, as referred to in the book Kebra Nagast, written in Ethiopian language in the 12th century AD. When King Solomon's son, Menelik I reached the age of 22, he visited Jerusalem to meet his father. He stayed with him for (3) three years, learning from his father's great wisdom, how to rule and govern like a true King. When the time came for him to return back to Ethiopia, his father gave him 12.000,00 people from different tribes and an additional 20 people, including priests such as priest Zadok and other administrators, who were to accompany him on his journey.
They took with them the Ark of the Covenant, in order to protect them from any danger during their journey, just like their fathers during the Exodus from Egypt, who were saved from Amaleks and Egyptians and saw many miracles.
At first, Manilek I, was not aware that the Ark of the Covenant was with them. After a few days of journey, Manilek I had been notified, that the Ark was with them and that it had been taken out of the Holy Place by priest Zadok. It was known that only priest Zadok had the authority to touch this sacred object.
They travelled through from today's Suez Canal, which then was land and not a waterway as it is today. From there they passed to Egypt and then crossing the Nile plain to East Sudan, which in those days was part of Ethiopia. Following this long journey, when they arrived in Tana Lake, they took a break.
The Israelites, who accompanied Manilek I from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, who had been given to him by King Solomon, had extensive knowledge in the field of construction, handicraft and agriculture. Using their skills, they built a special place where the Ark of the Covenant was laid, at Tana Lake, in Cheriqos Island.
Manilek I, was crowned by the priests Elmeyas and Azariah and by his mother, Queen of Sheba.
Elmeyas and Azariah, brought forth that writing which was written based on the Word of God and on the commandments, before God and before Manilek I and they read it before Queen of Sheba and before the great men of Israel and before all Ethiopian people. They all gathered together and when they heard, they bowed down to God. Young and old, great and surrendered, everyone praised God who had given to them His commandments and His law, so that they perform the justice and judgement of God. They glorified God that they heard His Word and moreover, He made them members of His house, for Zion was among them.
Zion is the habitation of the Glory of God, which delivers them from all evil and bless the fruit of their lands, multiply their sheep and cattle, bless their wells of water and bless their labors and orchards and raise their children and preserve their elders.
All the people of Ethiopia rejoiced.
The Queen of Sheba said to her son Manilek I: "My son, God have given thee the right way. Walk through it and withdraw not yourself from it, neither to the right nor to the left. And love the Lord, for he is merciful to the humble, for His way is known from His commandments and his goodness is comprehended through the guidance of His Word".
Then she turned towards Elmeyas and Azariah and all the mighty men of Israel saying: "Do you protect him and teach him the path of the Kingdom of God and the honor of our Lady Zion. And whatsoever our Lady Zion, let us love her. Tell us truly and carefully for ever and from generation to generation, so that she may not be worth with us, if we do not perform her service well, so that God may dwell with us. And you my son, hear into the word of the fathers and walk in their counsel. And let not drink and be like foolish, nor women, nor pride of apparel, nor the beautiful horses, nor the sight of the weapons of war of those who are at the head or at the rear. But let the confidence and trust be in God and in Zion, the Tabernacle of the Law of God, so that you may vanquish the enemy and so that the seed upon the earth may multiply and so that the foes and adversaries, near and far, may be overthrown, if you walk through the Law of God, you heard”. (Kebra Nagast 4, 44)
During the reign of King Menelik I, there was peace, economical growth, cultural prosperity as well as Jewish culture, all over Ethiopia.
The second journey was after the destruction of the First Temple, where they travelled to Egypt and then to Ethiopia, where already had safe place.
The third journey was after the destruction of the Second Temple, where in fact, a group of Asians who were in Qumran, fled from the Romans and came to Ethiopia. They brought with them the Atencon custom which was saying, not to touch anything not theirs. However, a strong kingdom with Jewish culture had been established, with the number of settlers to be rising in Ethiopia.
In light of the stories mentioned above, Ethiopian Jews are similar with the Ethiopian Jews in Israel, in terms of perception of their descent.
So, in conclusion the two communities are indeed similar in their perception of their Jewish roots.
THE RISE OF A JEWISH QUEEN
From 8th to 12th century, Jewish life had been led by Gideon dynasty, which ruled all areas of Amhara, from the South Tigray to Gogim up to Nile River.
Towards the end of 12th century, severe wars began between the Jews and the new Christians. Those days, King Gadzain ruled over Aksum. He died at a young age, thus thenceforward the kingdom was handed over to his son, who was a child and therefore unable to reign, another king ruled Aksum in his place, named Wag Seyum.
Wag Seyum ruled for a very short time. In the meantime, he married Judith, a very smart and beautiful woman from Gideon family.
As a result of this marriage, a friendship was formed between Gideon dynasty and Agau groups. Kemant and other minorities, were not included in the rule of Kings.
As the King died at young age, his wife Judith took over the throne. She began to mobilize the forces from Jews of Agau and Kement and other supporters, as well as Christian friends of her dynasty.
The first thing she did, as soon as she took control, was to start a war against Tigray area. She wanted to take revenge from the authorities Kings, who murdered her family and her father.
In this war, there were a group of Christians, who refused to accept her authority. To punish them, she tied their hands and feet and threw them from a cliff and she burned their churches. There were also emissaries from Egypt, who came to teach Christianity, pretending they were priests, but the truth was that they were Muslims, who came to divide and spread war in Ethiopia and so she punished them strongly. She was called by her enemies "Evil Judit".
In contrast to this, Judith was the Queen who restored the unity and kept Judaism in Ethiopia.
She ruled for (40) forty years. Finally, when Judith was unable to bring back the dynasty and she did not have a successor to take over after her, she left without leaving a trace and thus the dynasty fell.
After Judith the Jewish Queen, ascended to the empire of Zagwe dynasty, a king who came from Agau tribes and later became also the King of Lalibela (the area took King's name Lalibela). The supreme of the empires.
King Lalibela, was known as a pleasant person, who did not demand from the people to pay taxes to him. He even worked for a living. The Kings was loved and all accepted his subjects without wars. He died in 1270 and his son Nekto, transferred the monarchy to Yakunu Amalek, from Salmon dynasty.
WHAT JEWISH SIGNS DO JEWS OF NORTHEN SHEWA HAVE
The symbol that the Jews of Northern Shewa have, is the Star of David. In addition, they secretly keep Shabbat and they also keep Nidah room.
In fact, the House of Israel is the basis of ancient Ethiopian civilization. All the weapons of war, all the tools for hybridization, were made by the House of Israel, thus Ethiopia not only became a large and powerful empire, which influenced all African countries, but also maintained its independence from any foreign occupier throughout the years.
For example, in the 19th century, Italy tried to conquer Ethiopia but was unsuccessful.
Why was Italy, a European super power unable to conquer them? Where are the weapons, which were handmade by the House of Israel?
These questions will be answered in a bit.
Additional questions as to how did the tribe move to Shewa and its surroundings? What were the conditions that hastened their departure from areas such as: Nadavia, Skeleton, Armatzihu, Kolvevagra, Corey Balsa, Addis Time, Verta, Giant, Debertbor and many other villages, in favor of Shewa?
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE JEWS OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL IN THE 13TH, 14TH, AND 15TH CENTURIES?
During those years, Ethiopian Jews suffered from the anti-Semitic government attacks. Beit Yisrael, or otherwise the House of Israel, were under pressure to convert to Christianity, with the threat of being expelled from the land if they refused conversion. They were told they needed to be humanized by the Christians.
In 1399-1414, a royal declaration was given by King Atse Yitzhak, saying that: "From now on, no Jew has place in our land".
In the Ethiopian Book of Kings, which is a book of general and mostly religious history, written by those who refused Christianity and opposed the state religion, such as the House of Israel, would pay high marks.
A very difficult period came, during the 14th – 15th century, when thousands of Jews were murdered for their refusal to convert. Due to this horrific event and from all the pressure, there were Jews who reluctantly accepted Christianity, without believing in it, so they might save themselves, from certain horrible death.
In the Book of Ethiopian Kings, is mentioned that one of the Kings, said to the House of Israel: "The House of Israel, from the outside looks like Christian, but in the heart is far away. They don’t believe that Christ came into this world anointed and that He did not been conceived by man and woman connection, but that the Christ is like any man, with no any difference". And the King continued: "In the church, when they receiving Christ's bread, they throw it or vomit it, with no respect to Him and to our Mother Miriam".
Furthermore, in his royal declaration, it is mentioned that those are invaders, who do not accept our Mother Mary, neither Christ, who came to save the world. Therefore, they will be judged like dogs and like animals and they will not have the right to have their own land and they will be moved and shaken.
In 14th century, a man named Thalas, wrote that House of Israel lived in places such as: Danabia, Ankoshshilat, Rupel, Tzelem, Hanko, Kabta, Gira, Galba Agar, Alfa Takusa Dengel Bar, Adizendi, Daula Gaz, Gondroz Miriam, Gdam, Gotsirev, Vesna, Anbover, Aba Livnos, Dunkz, Maori, Mana, Ginamura, Kola Merva Agra, Tzihira, Aba Antonis, Aba Samuel, Dramara, Tenkel Gandua, Derman, Gana Johannes, Takusa, Guara, Tekel Dangai Wasba, Matzah, Daguma, Adar Devo, Michael Davar, Panther, Atega, Volia, Balibuha, Gurgora, Guinipankara, Kola Vogra, Mandraga, Tsida, Balsa Kori, Debark, Dovat, Dega Merav, Agma, Tesga, Zirbit and thousands other written villages.
In the 19th – 20th century, most of those villages, are not already known as Jewish villages, except from the followings: Ambober, Wuzaba, Guraba, Madirhara, Gendua, Gana, Gaina, Fenther, Ategie, Baliboha, Cora, Kushwili Ginwara, Teda, Maksnigit and many more.
Let us go back for a moment, to the period 1399-1414, when King Atse Yitzhak ruled. As previously mentioned, he was preaching Christianity throughout Ethiopia. He issued a statement, which stated that, anyone who would not accept Christianity as his religion, will not have land to live on, only those who accepted Christianity as his faith, would be entitled to land.
This decision, pushed Jewish people to turn to other professions, not relying solely on stock raising.
Then, during the period 1426-1460, Atse Zara Yaakov ascended to the monarchy and his first order of business was to deal strongly against the Jews, the House of Israel. His declaration was that, every Ethiopian citizen must be Christian. Beit Yisrael group, which was led by Abba Astifnus, replied that they would never train in another God and would not worship images made by humans, but they would only remain faithful in the God of Israel, as it is written in their Holy Books.
"You shall have no other Gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculpture image of any likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You shall no bow down on them or serve them. For the Lord, your GOD Am an impassioned God. Visiting the guilt of the parents upon the third and upon the fourth generations, of those who respect Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep my commandments".
EXODUS 20, 1-6.
And with these verses, they continued: "In honor of the King, but is forbitten for us to worship to other God except from our Lord and we do not attempt to change nothing from what is written in our Holy Books. We are not willing to bow down to another King and serve him, except from our God, who is our KING".
This provoked anger from the King and he issued another cruel declaration this time, which was saying that: "Whoever will not accept Jesus as his master and Miriam as his savior, will be doomed to die. All Christian citizens, will stand together like a fist and will fight against the House of Israel. And each one is entitled to steal anyone who does not obey this royal declaration". He continued: "Whoever seizes them and brings them before me, he will receive a priesthood from me".
This declaration, caused the most severe war between the Jews and the government forces and their supporters, resulting the deaths of thousands of Ethiopians.
In this war, they captured a very noble and beautiful Jewish woman and they brought her before the King for trial. The King said to her: "You, a beautiful woman like you, shall not be doomed to die, I want to release you, but before, I want you to repeat after me the words I will say and if you do, then I will set you free". The King asked from the Jewish woman to say those words: "Jesus Christ is my King and Mary is the one who has mercy on me". The noble woman remained silence. The King shouted at her and told her: "Before I hang you, repeat what I have just said now!" She replied to the King: "God of Abraham, Yezhak and Jacob, He is the God of Israel and He is my only Lord. Apart from Him, there is no other God and nothing".
As soon as the King heard those words, he became furious and shouted on her, pushing her violently away from him.
As the woman was on the way to prison, suddenly she jumped from a cliff and died. Her deed and heroism, were heard loud and clear throughout Ethiopia.
1470: EDDA MARIAM AND GRAGN MOHAMMAD
During the year 1470, Jews fought together with Gragn Mohammad against Christianity. A bloody revenge occurred, from which no contributions of change resulted, in the context of their right and good faith.
Furthermore, during period 1553-1584, when King Sarsa Dengel reigned, he fought together with a group of Christians in Ethiopia, where thousands of Jews have been executed.
All these battles and conflicts, contributed to the significant decrease in the number of Jewish individuals surviving in Ethiopia.
In 1610-1620 the emperor Atse Sosnius, based his monarchy in Aksum. He was the worst of all his predecessors. First, he declared peace for the whole House of Israel and wrote a letter, which was saying that it was time for peace and equality for all people. He declared time for forgiveness and invited everyone for an unarmed (without weapons) gathering, to celebrate the new time without wars. Most of those invited, were those who were associated with the Gideon dynasty.
As everyone was tired of wars and battles, they all came in good faith to the meeting place, Marcus. According to the invitation from the King, they all decided to left behind everything and move forward, living in peace.
The King however had other plans. He secretly, prepared a mighty army, well equipped with weapons.
At the assembly, the King invited one of the leaders of the Jews, to sit next to him. The dubious King asked the Jew: "Do you believe in Jesus and in our faithful Mary?" and the Jew answered that only one God exists and He is the God of Israel.
Then, in front of the whole public, the King cut the neck of the Jewish leader. Immediately, after this disgusting action, the secret army and the weapons that the King had previously prepared and hidden, were revealed and all those in attendance at the supposed peace assembly, were murdered in cold blood. The Jewish blood, flowed like the water and their dead bodies left to be eaten by the wild animals.
Lousy and cowardly act, by a King who purported to promote peace and tranquility, no less is hard to imagine. More shocking perhaps, is knowing that this was all done in the name of Christianity King Sosnius with the assistance of the King of Spain.
The Jews were shocked, upon learning of this horrid act by the King with the assistance of Spain, against the House of Israel in Ethiopia and began to flee as far as they could.
The Jews were dispersed by the government by force, as they saw them as the sons of Satan and they hated them. This event and the repercussions from it, hurt the House of Israel for many generations.
PERIOD: 1668-1678 JOHN I THE EMPEROR CHALLENGES
John I the Emperor, during the period 1668-1678 actively wrote against the House of Israel, saying that those Jews who not accept Christ as their Lord, will not be allowed to live with or near Christians; that they will not be able to participate in state ceremonies and will not approach the churches. They will be like an invasion that will have no fixed place, forced to roam and granted permission to any Christian to rob them.
Also, it is forbitten to move together more than three people in public. The fewer they are together, the more harmless they become.
Due to that fact, most Jews not lived in cities but completely separated from other denominations.
An Israeli from the House of Israel, wrote complaining to God: "Why did the Wise Man, create me who can craft, can weave, can make tools, can make pottery and much more that the people uses and I have to suffer? Why you said you could sweat and I do it according to your Word, but still I get punished? Why do I have to hide from the administration and from the Christians who live around me and to live in fear? This is why you told me that I was a part of the chosen people? You choose me to suffer, to cry, to weep and my heart to becoming more and more bitter every day? Why? "
So far has been told, what was the situation of the Jewish people in various areas, before they resorted to the Northern Shewa and to other areas in Southern and Eastern Ethiopia.
"I am going to take out the Israelite people from among the nations they have gone to, and gather them to their own land".
EZEKIEL 37, 21-22.
EXIT FROM THE GRAVE
"The hand of the Lord comes upon me. He took me out, by the spirit of the Lord and see myself down in the valley. It was full of bones. He led me all around them. They were very many of them spread over the valley and they were very dry. He said to me: "O mortal, can these bones live again?" I replied: "O Lord God, only You know" and He said to me: "Prophesy over these bones an say to them, O dry bones hear the word of the LORD!" Thus said THE Lord God to these bones: "I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again. I will lay sinews upon you and cover you with flesh and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you and you shall live again. And you shall know that IAM the Lord". I prophesied as I had been commanded. And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was sound of rattling and the bones come together, bone to matching bone. I looked and there were sinews on them and the flesh had grown and skin had formed over them, but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me: "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, o mortal! Say to the breath;" thus said the Lord God: "Come, o breath, from the four winds and breath into these slain, that they may live again". I prophesied as He commanded me. The breath entered them and they came to life and stood up on their feet. A vast multitude. And He said to me: "O mortal, these bones are the House of Israel. They say, our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, we are doomed. Prophesy therefore and say to them" thus said the Lord God: "I AM going to open your graves and lift you out of them. O MY people and bring you to the land of Israel. You shall know, O MY people that IAM the Lord, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of them. I will put MY breath into you and you shall live again and I will set you upon your own soil. Then you shall know that I the Lord, have spoken and have acted" declares the Lord."
EZEKIEL 37, 1-14.
The above verses, clearly imply to the public, that the ancestors underwent unforgettable torture!
Around the end of 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, a positive turn in attitude towards the Jewish people begins.
The Kings of Gondar, began to conquer large areas and especially towards Shewa and Southern Ethiopia.
According to Dr. Lapiso a historical writer, there were expansions of the Kings of Gondar, who tried to conquer King of Shewa, Degiazmetz. Many Jewish soldiers, were part of King Gondar's armies. It is important to note that, the Jews preferred to be in the military for the simplest reason, that there was respect in being a soldier.
At the end, Kings of Gondar's revolt fell and the Jews were immediately liberated from the oppressor. King of Shewa, Degiazmetz, treated them in a very fraternal way.
The Jewish soldiers, had been opposed to Gondar King and joined with Degiazmetz revolt. This rumor, about the Jewish opposition, reached the remote villages of Danabia, Armaciae, Skeleton, Baghdad, Tsilga, Addis Time, Scotta, Vogra Semin, Corey Balsa, Verta, Varkadba, Dengal, Kora, Tsiarmatsihu, Gandwa, Dramara, Gurgora, Pankara Gardens, Cola Vogra, Takusa Dengel Bar, Kabata Gira, Mavri, Mana, Ginamura, Cola Merba, Mandraga, Tesga, Salmaga, Zimbalga, Smalco, Gog Amba, Agma, Madera Gems, Debra.
In Volo such as: Wallach, Amdewerk, Kolmsk, Kota, Darba, Warka, Dario, Bogana, Sabra Amba and more,
In Gojam such as: Bahderar, Debra Marcus, Madhinaliam, Gavgavit, Andat, Zanzela, Der Bitao, Danigila and more,
In Walkeit such as: Darla, Edisgabo, Degina, Mae Lemem and many more.
In thousands of villages there was a hope, to leave and find a better place.
An Ethiopian historian Asem, supports that the new Jewish settlements, were an integral part of Ethiopia's economy, playing a crucial role and contributing greatly to its development. The Shewa area and in Southeaster and Western Ethiopia, was comprised predominately of nomads, roaming from place to place with their herds. These groups, were not involved in agriculture, as they were not farmers, lacking the knowledge how to grow crops on the land.
Therefore, it was necessary and very important for the Kings of those areas, to give such agriculture knowledge to the people, in order to allow them to maintain sustenance other than via stock raising.
The Jewish people, began to arrive to the Shewa, from many different areas, being warmly welcomed to the region, as they brought with them new knowledge. One of the Kings, Nagus Shala Selase, the grandfather of Menelik II, was known to be a friend to the Bete Israel, installed his throne at Shewa, whose capital was Ankober.
Subsequently, in the middle of the 18th to the beginning of the 19th century, thousands of Beit Yisrael people, came to Shewa and in its environs.
When Menelik II took over the empire by Nagus Shala Selase, he recruited the House of Israel such as, in people who were engaged in the development of weapons, in the development of agriculture tools and other traditional tools etc.
Menelik II, arranged for a Jewish community, near the royal house in Ankober which he visited every now and then. He would pass by to look at all those creative handworks, encouraging them to continue their excellent work.
Thereafter, Menelik II decided to move to Addis Ababa where he converted it to the capital of Ethiopia. He took with him many people from the House of Israel, who worked in iron welding, cutting, plumbing etc., to construct the capital.
Thus, as in ancient times the Jews built many of the great cities and the great pyramids in Egypt. Addis Ababa was built by Beit Yisrael.
Jews were the ones who built his royal house and the ones who helped him create a strong army in Africa and who fought against the attacks of any conqueror. That is why, the Kind considered by the House of Israel, as a good friend.
Therefore, the Jewish people settled to Addis Ababa area, a Northern Shewa which included villages like Selale, Mera Bete, Gishen, Menth, Dera, Giro, Morat, Patsea and many others.
Usually, the establishment of their villages was separate from other denominations, so that they were able to remain different, protecting their identities.
Throughout the generations, members of the Jewish community have continued to observe the religious precepts. In the last hundred years though, a decrease has been noted in the preservation of such traditions, while anti-Semitism has risen significantly, especially after the time of the emperor Menelik II.
The new generation forgot the significant role played and contributions of the Jewish people, in developing the country instead raising the new generation to be jealous of their knowledge and prosperity from their work. It is well known that condemnations against Jews or any other group, come mainly from jealously and evil thought.
WHAT CAUSED THE DISCONNECTION BETWEEN GONDAR JEWS AND SHEWA AREA JEWS?
This question, does not have a straight forward answer, with the causes being many, but the most important is the lack of transportation and communication. As in Ethiopia, has a very poor infrastructure resulting from the lack of communication (no phones or computers) and lack of transportation (no trains, no cars). Consequently, for hundreds of years and more, the connection between Gondar Jews and the Jews who kept the religion alive by leaving the area and settling in Shewa and its surroundings, was completely lost.
Those Jewish people living in those areas, opened their lives and differed from the population around them, but they suffered greatly from discrimination via sanctions and harassment by the governing bodies and subsequent Christian public. They endured public humiliation and name calling with such as Tabiban, Wise people of Buda, Giratam, Kayla and other harsh curses.
Despite all this, in speaking directly to individuals in the area there, remains a strong connection. There is the same hope, the same historical background and the same difficult experiences in previous generations, throughout the regions.
The song they are singing, is the same song like we used to sing there in Ethiopia:
"We will not forget Jerusalem forever, the slightly for Jerusalem, which is the magical dreams of all Jewish for Jerusalem".
Despite all the differences there may be, in my research, there remains strong commonalities between the communities of the House of Israel in Ethiopia throughout the generations. All the years of oppression and discrimination, the religious torment fueling centuries of wars in the region and costing many of Beit Yisrael their lives. Commonalities, between those who have already immigrated to Israel and those remaining in Northern Shewa, that cannot be ignored.
While there are significantly more similarities, then differences there remain some differences. While some were able to maintain their Jewish identities, despite the many difficulties and the anti-Semitism, they remained Jews. However, there were those who did break from the pressures and oppression against them, reluctantly accepting Christianity, only to save themselves from all the misery and in some cases certain death. So, one may argue that the Jews of Northern Shewa in fact became Jewish martyrs.
Those who continued to keep the commandments of the Torah and the tradition of Beit Yisrael, are the heroes of Israel. Their firm stance against the harsh decrees, the harsh wars, maintaining their Jewish identity religion and traditions with the Torah as a beacon, like a candle lighting the path.
Indeed, the fact that they stayed with their faith, despite all this, it is truly amazing.
Thus, God blessed them and gave them back the honor, of walking in the Sudanese desert on foot, like our ancestors, in ancient times, leaving Egypt and celebrating Exodus in the 21st century, coming to the Promised Land of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Israel and settling in it.
So, the question remains, what can we Jews do, for those Jews from the Northern Shewa? Has the time has come for redemption, as prophesied by the Prophets of Israel?
Suddenly, before us, looms perhaps the greatest part of history, an amazing story of Ethiopian Jewish history.
My answer is yes, the time has come. First, there is no doubt about the roots and of their Jewish ancestry.
Secondly, true believer in Judaism must believe that Jews, must not respond negatively to another Jews request, to study and return to their Jewish roots even while combining their local tradition with the tradition of Israel. Theses Jews are oppressed, raped and still live in the shadow of fear all, while world Jewry is freed from the fear and injustice of anti-Semitism. Indeed, anti-Semitism remains a global problem with attacks publicized in the news but at least there is no governmentally sponsored anti-Semitism, suppressing the spirit of the Jew, as in the old days.
Thank God, today the Jewish people are strong and active, strengthening their communities in Ethiopia that want to return to Judaism and return home, to their land of Israel.
There is no room for fear anymore. We Jews, are proud of the tradition of our ancestors and the religion of Moses and the great nation of Israel. But we must also strengthen the Jewish root.
Through our project, we will create educational and social activities, helping the community members to be proud of their Judaism and not fear it.
It is time the Jew to be free, in a place where he/who was born without fear. Today, many communities, throughout Diaspora, are emerging and growing. For example, there are growing communities in Eastern Europe such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldavia and more. Now, they too are establishing flourishing communities, that identify the Jewish tradition and the Jewish people, strengthening them and returning them to traditions lost. This sense of community, this support to help return those lost over the generations or are hiding from fear, those areas I want to help and return them to their roots.
To do this, we require support of the Jewish communities, to assist me in being the messenger for the Jewish people. Together, as a part of the greater Jewish community, can help, develop and strengthen the Jewish community in Northern Shewa.
If I had all the money I needed, I would do it without appealing for additional assistances.
This is a very special project, a holy project with great potential, to help our fellow Jews. As such, I am asking for your financial assistance.
I conclude with the prayer "Gal Yisrael".
May it be the will of our exalted Guardian,"
That we receive good tidings of deliverance and consolation,
May God, gather our exiles from the far corners of the world, Amen.
May the Holy one, be merciful to our fellow Jew,
Who wonder over sea and land,
Who suffer oppression and imprisonment,
May God, soon bring them relief from distress
And deliver them from darkness to light,
From subjugation to redemption.
And let us together say, Amen".
Siddur sim shalom.
1. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept,
As we thought of Zion.
2. There on the poplars, we hung up our lyres,
3. For our captors asked us there for songs, Our tormentors, for amusement,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion".
4. How can we sing a song of the Lord, on alien soil?
5. If I forget you, o Jerusalem,
Let my right-hand wither,
6. Let my tongue stick to my palate, if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory,
Even at my happiest time.
PSALM 137, Portions 1-6.
BIBLE: Kings a 1-3,10-11, Prophets: Ezakiel, Isaiah, Zephaniah, Psalms.
1. "The sign and the seal" by Girhaim Hankok.
2. Jems Brus: "The Falasha people in Ethiopia in the 18th century.
3. The Templers: "Mission to Jew in Ethiopia".
4. Martine Flad, Henery Arone Sarten.
5. The historian Haris.
6. Jewish historian Jackov Faitlobich from France.
7. Ethiopian historian Linken DeCastro.
8. Rechard Pancrest Specialist in Ethiopian history, "How the Falasha came to Ethiopia".
9. "Kebra Nagast" written in the 13th century.
10. Alemu Tadese: "The history of King Sertsedingle in the 14th century."
11. Belay Gidey Amiha: "Aksum, Adis Ababa 1995"
12. Rabbi Yesrael Ariel: "The Odyssey of the Third Temple" Israeli publication and production.
13. Robert Kornuk: "Is the Ark of Covenant in Ethiopia?".
14. "Aliyah Bet" by Mesfine Asefa 2001, Ethiopian Jewish historian.
15. Tadess Tamirat: "Church and State in Ethiopia 1945".
16. Richard Pankkrest: "Notes for history of Ethiopia handcrafts".