Closing the circle: Ethiopian women in Israel

By KASAEY DAMOZA
March 9, 2011 22:29

Women in our community are usually in the headlines in connection with negative incidents, such as family violence, but many of them have achieved great things in this country.

3 minute read.



Ethiopian Falash Mura immigrants.

Falash Mura 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

The Ethiopian community is composed of 120,000 people. About 30 percent of them were born here. It is a small minority community that makes up about 1.5% of the total population.

In the media, Ethiopian women are usually in the headlines only in connection with negative events, such as family violence. Therefore I was very excited to read that the person most likely to be selected as ambassador to Ethiopia is Dr. Negest Mengashe, an Ethiopian-born Israeli woman. She is the former CEO of the National Project for Ethiopian Immigrants, an NGO.

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There are numerous examples of Ethiopian women who have achieved success. They include Tsega Melaku, a manager at Reshet Aleph, the radio station, actress and singer Esther Rada, actress Titana Kebede Assefa, Dr.

Yardena Fanta (an academic at Harvard) and Shula Mola, director of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews.

There are many other Ethiopian women who hold responsible positions in the private and public sectors.

However, in honor of International Women’s Day marked on Tuesday, I prefer to focus on the woman who helped create my identity: my mother.

MY MOTHER was born in Ethiopia around 1960. We don’t really know the exact date, so my siblings and I give her presents from time to time on her “birthday.” At 12 she married my father in an arranged marriage. As was the tradition in Ethiopia, after marriage she moved to my father’s village. She had a radically different childhood than we are used to here. She learned to cook and knit, weave and make pottery. At 15 she gave birth to her first child, my older sister. She had seven more children, two who died in infancy.

Before the journey to Israel through the Sudan, the whole village prepared.

My mother was very afraid for our safety, but put her trust in God and received courage from her faith. It was a journey that would change all our futures.

In Sudan the community underwent great traumas. My family, along with the rest of the Ethiopian Jews who were living in refugee camps, had a feeling of disappointment and despair.

My father was exhausted and heartbroken, and all the children, except for me, became ill. My mother took upon herself the responsibility of caring for the destiny of the family.

Every day she went to the offices of the different NGOs in the camp to receive aid.

When we arrived here, we came to an absorption center, and later moved to a small apartment in Kiryat Yam.

Because my parents had no formal education, my father found work in a factory and my mother took temporary jobs such as cleaning, assisting the elderly, working in a bakery, and a long list of such jobs. In her free time she knitted traditional Ethiopian dresses as a way of remembering Ethiopia.

My mother always reminded my siblings and I that education was most important. She even showed us the way by completing her own high school diploma. There is no doubt that my sisters and I, seeing how much effort she put into her studies, felt guilty if we didn’t do our homework.

Today my mother has two grandchildren.

Four of us have college degrees. At the same time, my mother works with new immigrants from Ethiopia. In this way she is closing the circle of absorption and integration.

The uniqueness of the Ethiopian woman, as illustrated by my mother, is the fact that she works to keep her family together by perpetuating Ethiopian culture while integrating it into society.

The writer works for the government, and is completing an MA at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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