Monday, November 16, 2009

Ethiopian Israelis celebrate

Sigd Day pomp in Jerusalem draws Ethiopian leaders in full regalia to the Old City, to celebrate their day of fasting and prayer.
Nearly all of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, comprising more than 119,300 people, now live in Israel under its Law of Return, which gives Jews and those with Jewish parents or grandparents, and all of their spouses, the right to settle in Israel and obtain citizenship. (Not to be confused with the Right of Return, the Palestinian notion that refugee families who were nudged out by fighting during the creation of the Israeli state should be welcomed back.) The Israeli government has mounted rescue operations, most notably during Operation Moses (1984) and Operation Solomon (1991) when civil war and famine threatened Jewish populations within Ethiopia. Immigration continues. Today 81,000 Ethiopian Israelis were born in Ethiopia, while 38,500 or 32% of the community are native born Israelis. An estimated half live below the poverty line.

Falasha Mura people are the descendants of Beta Israel who converted to Christianity. Some are returning to the practices of Judaism by living in Falash Mura communities and observing halakha. Beta Israel spiritual leaders, including Chief Kes Raphael Hadane, urge the acceptance of these Falasha Mura as full-fledged Jews. Israeli society plays a statistical demographic shell game - the goal is to keep the headcount of new immigrants high to counteract the Palestinian birthrate. More than a million Russian economic immigrants, many of whom came of age in a Godless Soviet society and have not inculcated many Jewish traditions, complicate the equation.
Inside Israel, Ethiopians usually rank lower in status than Russians because the melting pot philosphy is tricky amid the in-grown skin-tone snobbery. Ask a Misrahi or Sephardic Jew. Descent goes white, brown, black, and finally Arab.

Hat tip to the Beeb for this photo.

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