Meeting of the Ethiopian-Israeli Teachers’ Community – Connecting to tradition and heritage and the formation of identity

With Hanukkah in the background, the second meeting of Ethiopian-Israeli teachers’ community took place in Kiryat Gat, at the Beta Yisrael Village – the Center for the Preservation of Ethiopian Jewish Heritage. There couldn’t have been a more fitting location. As soon as we arrived we went on a tour of the charming and intriguing village. The place is built like an Ethiopian village and simulates authentic Jewish life in Ethiopia. 

The mud houses – Gojo – the traditional crafts and the thriving agriculture. No one was left with clean hands when we dived into an experiential clay workshop – an activity that teaches the history of Ethiopian Jews through the traditional method used to make household utensils in the family.

We were entranced by a traditional ceremony with spectacular costumes and saw how the Dabo, the Ethiopian bread, is made, how the Buna, the famous Ethiopian coffee, is roasted, and were blessed with all of its goodness.

After we had our fill of Injera at lunch, we heard from Uri Makonen Farda about the week’s Parsha, Hanukkah and the connection to Ethiopian heritage. Uri is an educator from the Golan Heights, a member of the teachers’ community leadership team and the “Teacher of the Century” of 2020. Every year, approximately one hundred outstanding teachers in the national religious school system are selected to receive a recognition prize for dedicated educational work, initiative, innovation or breakthrough.

The main lecture at the meeting was from Yaakov Bonchel’s – “Looking for the candles in the heritage of Ethiopian Jewry – Hanukkah candles and the conflict between sages and Beta Israel (Kessim)”. The lecture was fascinating and enlightening.

The last part of the day was roundtable discussions and brainstorming by the participants and afterwards a plenary on issues related to the goals of the teachers’ community. Among the issues that came up for discussion were the following questions: Does the difference in religious customs between the Beta Israel community (Jews of Ethiopian origin) and the other Israeli communities have an effect on pride and sense of belonging? What in the Beta Israeli identity would we not give up in the process of integrating into Israeli society? In the discussions on these and other issues, many ideas and insights from the field emerged for the continued advancement and strengthening of the community.

We left after lighting Hanukkah candles. It was a full and empowering day, as is shown by the many responses we received, and here are a few examples:

“Thank you to all of the leaders who honored us with their presence. Thank you, dear colleagues, for choosing to take part in the enrichment activity which is a necessity for creating a cohesive and empowering community. Thank you to the members of the leadership team who strive to invest their time and energy in promoting these activities, and we have the duty to take part and be partners in the process, at the end of which our community and Israeli society in general will benefit.”

“Many thanks to all of the leaders and organizers of this day. The experience was in a warm, pleasant and delicious atmosphere. Learning from peers as it should be. It was an empowering meeting, a community-rooted experience. I was honored to learn and enjoy from all of the good that was there. The sentence that best suits this day, in my opinion, is “Know where you came from and where you are going.” … I am leaving with light and pride that we have something to give and illuminate and influence.”

“Exciting and empowering! We most definitely deserve to see ourselves in the right light as it should be. The desire of good, quality people always causes the light to spread, as we all do in our educational work. I wish that we will continue to illuminate our paths and the paths of others in a positive light always. Happy Hanukkah”.

We, at Merchavim, are also proud to take part in this wonderful community!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of this day – Genet Desa, CEO of Olim Beyachad and Michal Pinchuk, CEO of Merchavim, for honoring us with their presence and blessings, Geula Radai, Kfar Beta Israel tourism director who hosted us warmly, Attorney Yaakov Bonchel for his enriching lecture “Where have the Hanukkah candles gone in the Beta Israel community”, and all the wonderful members of the leadership team, who work tirelessly for the teachers’ community – Taja Kinda, Tikva Alin, Zehava Cohen, Simcha Atzava, Gideon Eich, Uri Mekonen Farda , Biru Tashla, Daniel Assers, Honniahu Ashta, Noah Mentesnot, Moshe Yeshayahu.