Be’er-Sheva has the second-largest Ethiopian-Jewish community in Israel, nearing 6,500 residents (which is the highest percentage per capita). Ethiopian Jewry was brought to Israel over many years, in a series of operations: “Brothers” (1979-1984); “Moses” (1984-1985); “Joshua”/”Sheba” (1985); “Solomon” (1991); “Tsur Yisra’el” (2021-2022).
Ethiopian centers, associations & projects
“Bet Samuel” – the Community Center for Ethiopian Immigrant Absorption (lit., Samuel’s house; named in memory of the late Ethiopian paratrooper Staff-Sargeant Samuel Tayho, d.1993) is located at 3 Hatam Sofer St. in the Yud-Aleph neighborhood – 08-6199076, 08-6411432. “Bet Samuel” hosts “Tabaka” – the Association for the Administration of Justice for Ethiopian Immigrants (founded 2000).
The “Shavu Banim” Center (founded 1994; lit., the offspring have returned) is situated in the “Ethiopian-Jewry House” complex, is a spiritual center for the Ethiopian-Jewish community also located in the Yud-Aleph neighborhood. This hilltop complex contains several buildings. The Kes Barukh Central Ethiopian Synagogue “Avona Aba Tsabra,” is shaped like a traditional Ethiopian hut; it has a Torah ark adorned by the 10 Commandments in Hebrew and Amharic. The complex also has a traditional Jewish ritual bath (mikveh) and a community center with: an events hall, a kindergarten/daycare center, an Ethiopian arts center, a computer room, and an Ethiopian heritage room. This center provides a wide assortment of community activities, in addition to the daily, Sabbath and holiday prayers held in the synagogue, and offers guided tours – 08-6442986, 08-6411432, http://www.shavu-banim.org/page.asp?page_id=10.
The Kalisher Immigrant Absorption Center in the Gimel neighborhood served for many years as a major Ethiopian hostel. In light of the centrality of traditional Ethiopian agriculture in the lives of most of the Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants, “Earth’s Promise” – an eco-social NPO (founded 2007), created the “Community Gardening Project” at Kalisher, with the help of the new Ethiopian immigrants, each family receiving a long furrough to plant and harvest at will, thus promoting sustainable urban agriculture and locally-grown foods, while literally helping them to ‘put down roots’ in Be’er-Sheva; this project was so successful that when the original immigrants moved out to fend for themselves, they bequeathed their furroughs to incoming immigrant family members – http://www.earthspromise.org. Another “Earth’s Promise” project recorded, translated & published personal stories told by Ethiopian immigants (in Hebrew) – Michal 054-8339449.
The Taubel Center for the Preservation of Ethiopian-Jewish Handicrafts is located in the Gimel neighborhood at 50 Arlozorov St. Typical Ethiopian clay sculptures and wicker baskets, platters and bowls are made & sold – 08-6235882. Another Ethiopian-art workshop is located in the Old City on Sheloshet Bene En Harod St., where traditional Ethiopian sculpting and basket-weaving are done and some pieces are sold. Ethiopian handicrafts are also displayed and sold at the Artist’s House in the Old City. There’s even a special “Women Embroider Their Dreams” Project for Ethiopian women run by Margalit Moshe – 08-6105731, www.nashimrokmot.org.
The Municipal Welfare Dept. has a special project “Eshet Hayil“ (lit., woman of valor) – for the advancement of Ethiopian women – 08-6239604. Additionally, JDC-Israel runs a “Parental Leadership Project for the Ethiopian Community” to get parents involved in their children’s education & schools – 08-6463901.
Ethiopian languages & traditions
Ethiopian-born Jews, descendants of the biblical Tribe of Dan, usually call themselves Beta-Israel (although others sometimes call them Falashas); while the Falash-Mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who had at some time converted to Christianity, but now also wish to return to the promised Land of Israel. There is a lovely short film on the Falashmura entitled: “People of the Falashmura” created by Lior Sperandeo that may be viewed at: https://www.israelvideonetwork.com/?s=people+of+falashmura&submit=Search, or at: https://vimeo.com/168155153.
Ethiopian-Jews commonly speak one of two Semitic languages: Amharic (from urban areas) or Tigrinya (from the Tigray region).
There were serious religious debates regarding the ‘Jewishness’ of the Ethiopian Jews, but in 1973 the Chief Sephardi Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, declared that the Beta-Israel are true descendants of the Israelite Tribe of Dan; the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, also accepted them as Jews in 1974. In 1977, the Beta-Israel were included in the “Law of Return,” after which the State of Israel made concerted efforts to bring them to Israel via the Sudan in a number of overt and covert rescue operations.
Then similar religious debates occurred regarding the ‘Jewishness’ of the Falash-Mura. In 2003, the Israel Chief Rabbinate decided that if the Falash-Mura would undergo supervised Orthodox-Jewish conversion in Ethiopia, then they too would be eligible to become citizens of Israel under the “Law of Return.” Then, from 2003-2006 and from 2010-2013, the State of Israel made gradual and/or humanitarian efforts to bring the Falash-Mura to Israel–the last of whom ostensibly arrived in 2013.
Traditionally, Ethiopian-Jewry in Ethiopia (and some, though now living in Israel) celebrate a unique, annual Jewish holiday, the Sigd, on the 29th day of the Jewish calendar month of Heshvan (in late Oct. or early Nov.), marking their Zionistic longing for Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Celebrations are held in Be’er-Sheva at “Bet Samuel” and “Shavu Banim” and elsewhere in the city and across Israel.
An important, traditional Ethiopian custom is the bunah ceremony–a strictly-stylized coffee preparation ceremony that is performed each time guests arrive and also under other specific circumstances. There is a special way of preparing fresh coffee and for serving 3 cups of coffee, as dictated by custom. Generally, conversations held during the course of this ceremony are considered to be confidential. A light snack is served alongside the coffee, typically: sweets, roasted humus beans, popcorn, etc.
It is likely that over 4,000 Ethiopian-Jews perished en route to the Holy Land, many walking all the way from Ethiopia, through Sudan and Egypt, to get here. “Jerusalem Day,” celebrated annually on the 28th of the Jewish calendar month Iyar (in late Apr. or early May), has also been designated as a Memorial Day for the Ethiopian Jews Who Died en Route. Annual ceremonies are held in Be’er-Sheva, remembering the dead and honoring those who survived the horrific trials and tribulations to reach Zion.
The City of Be’er-Sheva has a unique traffic circle, jointly dedicated in 2007 in honor of its ‘twin city’ in Ethiopia – Addis Ababa – by the Mayor of Be’er-Sheva and the Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel.
In the Yud Aleph neighborhood on Abarbanel St. there are a memorial, a traffic circle & a garden dedicated to a hero of the Ethiopian mass immigration project, Ferede Yazezow Aklum (1949-2009), who risked his life to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel through Sudan.
Ethiopian spices, imported clothing and items are available at Barukh Brothers’ Spices at 73 ha-Histadrut St. in the Old City. Mulu Barukh – 08-6233940, 052-5405099.
Ethiopian VIPs/key figures
Worldwide Ethiopian-Jewry is led by the chief kes (high priest) – currently Kes Barukh in Be’er-Sheva – and the local community is also guided by the Ethiopian-Jewish Council of Priests in the Negev – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moshe Bhate (from Be’er-Sheva) has served as the Director of the Ethiopian Immigrants’ Branch of the Jewish Agency since 2011.
Orah Tamano (b.1979-) is an Ethiopian lawyer specializing in family and bankrupcy laws who resides and practices in Be’er-Sheva, who left to study and came back to serve. She has a private law firm – 08-9956505, 058-6678516, 8A Henrietta Szold St. (across from the Hall of Justice).