Three months ago, we took a trip to Ethiopia with 15 young people and four adult
It is important for young Israelis of Ethiopian descent to
visit Ethiopia since their identities are made up of two parts: Ethiopian and
Israeli. These two identities need to exist in each individual in peace and
If they don’t, the struggle between them will take these
Ethiopian-Israeli youth on a crazy roller coaster ride, from which they are
liable to end up completely confused, with no sense of belonging,
self-confidence or aspiration.
Teenagers are constantly asking
themselves: Who am I? What makes me special? What is my connection to society,
to family and to the culture from which I’ve come? Where do Israeli culture and
religion fit in? Each individual’s identity is created from the integration of
self and community.
One of the most important components of identity in
Israeli society is ethnic and Jewish identity. In the case of Ethiopian
immigrants living in Israel, their ethnic identity is prominent, which makes it
easy for people to identify and associate them with their home country. As a
result, their ethnicity is even more important a factor for them than for other
Israelis of various ethnic origins.
On the other hand, Israeli society’s
opinions and attitudes toward identity are often negative and stereotypical, and
based on prejudices and incomplete information.
The absorption of
Ethiopian immigrants in Israel has been fraught with family crises and economic
hardship, which have only strengthened these opinions.
Jewish identity has also been harmed as a result of the doubt cast on the
validity of its Jewishness by the Israeli rabbinate, which required Ethiopian
immigrants to undergo conversion so as to remove any doubt.
complex situation, the young people of this community must form an identity that
comprises all of these components: their past as individuals and that of their
community, along with the culture and value systems espoused by Israeli society,
where they are being raised and educated. These youth are expected to fulfill
their families’ expectations, while at the same time integrating into Israeli
These circumstances have made it extremely difficult for today’s
youth to cultivate a positive self-image and to successfully integrate into
The fact that their parents grew up in Ethiopia – a
society that is culturally and socially so different – has made
inter-generational discourse difficult. The two generations no longer share
historical values and common cultural references.
The idea behind the
trip to Ethiopia was the belief that the problems of identity significantly
affect social and personal adjustment, as well as feelings of social
These youth will only be able to connect to Israeli society if
they are at peace with themselves and with their past. Once they have a clear
and healthy selfidentity that is connected to their roots, they will be able to
fully integrate into Israeli society with a sense of positive self-worth. They
will then be capable of building a sense of positive self-worth and developing
educational and social motivation that would allow them to reach their
potential. These were our goals for the trip.
During our trip, we visited
villages where Ethiopian Jews once lived. In one of the villages, we cleaned up
the Jewish cemetery, said Kaddish and ended the ceremony by singing “Hatikva.”
Afterwards, we visited an abandoned synagogue that had once been the spiritual
center of the Beta Israel community. We also visited important and impressive
historic sites that many of the participants had never even heard about. Of
course, we also enjoyed the nature and the rich diversity in culture that the
country is blessed with.
We planned and carried out social and
educational activities with the Jewish children who are still waiting to
immigrate to Israel. Each night after we lit Hanukka candles, we would share
with each other the experiences of the day.
Trip participants described
the visit as an eye-opening and life-altering experience. Many of them said that
learning about their past and their parents’ lives has made them more proud of
their origin, and strengthened the connections between the Jewish, Ethiopian and
Israeli parts of their lives.
Seeing firsthand where their parents grew
up made a great impression on them. They are now able to appreciate how much
their parents did for them when they brought them on aliya. They were now better
able to understand their parents’ perspective on life in Israel.
understanding has also helped them connect these two worlds and develop a
language in which they can dialogue with and better understand their
This acquaintance of the younger generation with their parents’
histories has also helped to connect parents with their children’s current
lives; they were now better prepared to create a common future together. In this
respect, the goals of the trip were achieved – and maybe even
As a result of the trip, the participants could carry out deep
and meaningful introspection into their identity, and into their past, present
and future. Adolescents are constantly trying to formulate an identity for
themselves as an individual, as part of a family, a community and a nation. From
our perspective, this group was just the first of many, many more trips to
The partner organizations involved in the trip were: the Jewish
Agency, the Rashi Foundation, the Association for the Advancement of Education,
Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, Hakeren Layedidut, Ariella, and the
Education Ministry.The author is director of the Steering Center for
Ethiopian Immigrants. Translated by Hannah Hochner.