Ethiopian triumphs

Even though members of Israel’s Ethiopian community are politicians, doctors, lawyers, academics, etc., they too are seldom in the spotlight on the basis of their achievements.

Leaders of the Jewish-Ethiopian community displayed on a large screen as they lead worshipers in the Sigd holiday prayers in Jerusalem, November 17, 2018. (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Leaders of the Jewish-Ethiopian community displayed on a large screen as they lead worshipers in the Sigd holiday prayers in Jerusalem, November 17, 2018.
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Too often, news items in the Israeli media about Ethiopians are fraught with incidents of racism, intolerance and needless violence. When something positive is written about them, more often than not it mirrors the situation in the United States, where African-Americans achieve stardom in the worlds of pop music and sports. There are, of course, exceptions both in the US and Israel, but other than in the cases of president Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey and a few others, black Americans don’t get the media spotlight they deserve for what they have achieved. Even though members of Israel’s Ethiopian community are politicians, doctors, lawyers, academics, etc., they too are seldom in the spotlight on the basis of their achievements.
Thus it was pleasing last week to see an Ethiopian doctoral student among 12 doctoral students who received NIS 150,000 grants at a ceremony at the President’s Residence. Danny Admaso, 44, of Bar-Ilan University, impressed the nine-member adjudicating committee with his thesis, “Ethiopian Jews and the Concept of Blackness in Zionist Histiography and Culture.”
On Monday of this week, the audience at the Lev Cinema in Tel Aviv will see the Israeli premiere of the prize-winning film Fig Tree by Alamork Davidian, an Israeli Ethiopian film director who last year won the prestigious Audentia Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. 
The prize included a substantial monetary award given by Eurimage for the best film directed by a woman. The film also won the Sam Spiegel Film Lab Prize.
Thus it is entirely appropriate for the film to be shown during the ongoing celebrations of International Women’s Day.
Shot entirely in Ethiopia, the film tells the story of teenage Mina, a Jewish girl and her Christian boyfriend, Eli, caught in the grip of a civil war. Eli lives in the forest in order to evade being drafted into the army. Mina’s mother is already in Israel awaiting the arrival of the rest of her family. Mina devises a plot to save Eli, but everything seems to go against her. The cast are all amateurs from Addis Ababa.
The dialogue is in Amharic with Hebrew and English subtitles.
Davidian and others associated with the film will be present at Lev Cinema to talk about it.
■ YET ANOTHER continuation of International Women’s Day will be a meeting with female politicians at the Google Center, at Yigal Alon Street 98, Tel Aviv, on Thursday, March 14. Organized by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers, the event will deal with the prevention of violence against women. Participants will include Merav Michaeli, Labor; Michal Rozin, Meretz; Aida Touma-Siman, Hadash-Ta’al; Merav Ben Ari, Kulanu; Aliza Lavie, Blue and White; Prof. Yifat Biton, Gesher; Michal Shir, Likud; and Shuli Mualem, New Right. The discussion will focus on how the battle against violence can move from social protest to political strength.
■ IT’S MORE likely to be coincidence than anything else, but this week, Lithuanian Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas will host a concert in celebration of the anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania’s independence. Two days later, Leyvik House in Tel Aviv will host a memorial event honoring well-known Vilna-born Yiddish writer Chaim Grade, considered to be one of the leading Yiddish writers of the 20th century. Grade, who received both a secular and a religious education, was a long-time student of Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, better known as the Hazon Ish. When the Nazis invaded Vilna – or Vilnius as it is known in Lithuanian – Grade fled to the Soviet Union. His mother and his wife were murdered in the Holocaust. After the war, he lived briefly in Poland and France, and in 1948, settled permanently in the United States, making his home in New York. Grade’s second wife, Inna Hecker, translated several of his works into English.
On Friday, March 15, at 11 a.m., Diana Shapira, a research student in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Yiddish program, who writes on the image of Vilna in Yiddish literature between the two world wars, will discuss Chaim Grade and the gradual revival of the world that disappeared during the destruction of Europe.
■ ANYONE WHO has been inundated with antisemitic messages emanating from Poland or from people with Polish surnames, or alternately from people who are not necessarily antisemitic, but who seek to strike a balance between shameful incidents committed during the Holocaust by both Poles and Jews, will be happy to know that not all is as dark as it may seem. A statement published a few days ago in Polish, Hebrew and English by the Warsaw-headquartered Polish Council of Christians and Jews and signed by Jewish co-chairman Stanislaw Krajewski and Christian co-chairman Zbigniew Nosowski reads: “The Polish Council of Christians and Jews is very concerned about the renewed exacerbation of rhetoric over Polish-Jewish matters. As in the first quarter of 2018, we regret to say that emotions surrounding the difficult issues in the history of both connected nations are escalated and used instrumentally for current internal political conflicts – especially in the context of subsequent election campaigns in Israel and Poland.
“We call for a responsible look at the history of Polish-Jewish relations and the prudent shaping of the social and political framework in which these relations will develop in next generations. Ad hoc use of mental shortcuts, harmful generalizations and stereotypes makes it difficult to conduct a dialogue and substantive discussion about the past.
“We call on participants in the public debate – both politicians and journalists – both in Poland and in Israel – that they talk about the history of the 20th century with relevant care and respect for the memory of the dead and the murdered.”
It is good know that there are people on both sides who, rather than fan the flames of dispute, would like to douse them.
■ AMONG THE well-known members of the Council of Christians and Jews is prominent Polish-Jewish journalist Prof. Konstanty Gebert, who will be in Israel this week to speak on “From Round Tables to Divided Society: Poland and East-Central Europe 30 Years After the Fall of Communism,” at an event organized by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. An international journalist and columnist at Gazeta Wyborcza, one of Poland’s leading newspapers, where his byline has appeared since 1992, Gebert was a member of Solidarity, which changed the face of Polish politics. He is also an academic who has taught in Poland, Israel and the US, and has lectured extensively in all three countries.
Charismatic and a political and intellectual activist, Gebert is an associate fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He founded the Polish Jewish intellectual monthly Midrasz, and serves as a board member of the Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund, as well as of the Einstein Forum in Potsdam, Germany. He has authored several books on Poland’s democratic transformation, French policy toward Poland, the Yugoslav wars and the wars of Israel, Torah commentary and post-war Polish Jewry.
As a journalist, he has covered wars and has witnessed genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. He has said that as the progeny of a Shoah survivor, he cannot help but be interested in genocide and the prevention of mass atrocities. “The choice has been made for me.”
In 1978, Gebert was one of the key organizers of what was known as the Flying University, a clandestine institution of higher education that teaches about various subjects that were forbidden by the then-communist government of Poland. After joining the Solidarity Movement in 1980, he became one of the members of the “Solidarity of Education and Technicians Workers’ Union.”
In 1989, he was one of the accredited journalists present at the Polish Round Table talks that were aimed at defusing social unrest, and subsequently worked as a war correspondent. He also served as an adviser to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who was Poland’s first non-communist prime minister since 1946.
Gebert was subsequently special rapporteur to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and served as its representative to the former Yugoslavia.
In a January 2014 lecture to the ICFR, Gebert said that people often ask about the importance of democratic traditions in Central Europe ensuring the ultimate success of the revolution that swept communism away. He, personally, did not think that this was all that important, with the one exception of Czechoslovakia, because democratic traditions never played a major role in Central Europe. It would appear that his assessment was correct, which will make his talk to the ICFR this week all the more interesting. Many of us live during an era of historic events, but unlike Gebert, we are not involved in their outcome or in reporting them.