Benny Aklom's journey

Born in Addis Ababa in 1978, Benjamin (Teadrous) Aklom's personal journey and that of his family to Israel is one of the legends of the Beta Israel community.

August 23, 2007 12:33
2 minute read.

Born in Addis Ababa in 1978, Benjamin (Teadrous) Aklom's personal journey and that of his family to Israel is one of the legends of the Beta Israel community. "My father was an activist," says Aklom, now a third-year student of biology at Bar-Ilan University, of his father Ferda Aklom. Ferda Aklom was a teacher in Ambover - the former spiritual center of Ethiopian Jewry - and involved in fighting for Jewish rights in the then communist-run country. After being arrested for his activities, however, he fled Ethiopia and hid in Sudan, leaving Aklom's mother to return to her family's rural Gondar village and raise her baby alone. Aklom did not meet his father again until he was 10 and they were both living here. Ferda went on to be recruited by the Mossad to establish an escape route for thousands of Ethiopian Jews, setting the groundwork for what was to become Operation Moses in the early 1980s. While he has every right to be proud of his father's place in Ethiopian Jewish history, Aklom says it took him more than 20 years to accept that his father "sacrificed himself and his family for the good of the Ethiopian Jewish community." "When I was a teenager, I was really angry at my father for not wanting to explain why he had deserted my mother and me," recalls Aklom, who in recent years has started to explore his African identity. "Today, after looking into Ethiopian history and understanding the culture a little better, instead of anger I am now quite proud of him." After exploring his own heritage and history, Aklom - who retold the story of his father's daring escape from Ethiopia to participants of the recent Campaign Chairs and Directors 2007 mission to Ethiopia last month - believes that the cultural identity of young Ethiopian Jews is a pressing issue. "Israeli identity is like a mosaic," he says. "Everyone brings their own culture to it to make up the puzzle of Israeli identity." Asked whether he feels more Israeli than Ethiopian, Aklom hesitates. "First, I feel Jewish," he responds. "Then I feel like a dark-skinned Israeli. I think for all Africans, the color of our skin is very important. All blacks in this country, whether they are Ethiopian Jews or Africans working here, have a connection because we are people of color." He adds that many Ethiopians struggle to connect with other Israelis because of the cultural differences and notes: "With the Israeli/Western culture we do not connect 100 percent and at home, we no longer feel 100% Ethiopian. It is very difficult." "I only reached a comfortable stage in my identity struggle during my early 20s," observes Aklom, who is active in the Ethiopian student community. "I have managed to find a balance between the two. When I was in Ethiopia, I really felt a sense of connection to the children there."

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