Last night, Safra Square in Jerusalem was host to an exciting and colorful celebration of Ethiopian Jewish culture. Attracting a mix representative of Israeli society, visitors witnessed a demonstration of a traditional Ethiopian wedding, braiding hair in the traditional Ethiopian style and community artists exhibiting their handicrafts, including wooden musical instruments. Of course, this being Israel, the celebration was not complete without a selection of Ethiopian foods and coffee.
The climax of the “Jerusalem Sukka” event was the evening concert where singers of Ethiopian background hosted veteran Israeli singers: Ayala Ingedasht with Shiri Maimon, Shimon Tapeta with Gilad Segev and Shlomo Gronich. The Sheba Choir performed their well-known song “The Journey to the Land of Israel”.
The event was initiated by the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in cooperation with the Jerusalem Municipality in order to recognize the 25th anniversary of Operation Moses, the contribution of Ethiopian new immigrants to Israeli society and their integration in Israeli culture and art.
In the clandestine “Operation Moses” from November 1984 until January 1985, 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel following a long and arduous journey on foot through the deserts of Sudan. Many died on the way and many others perished under the difficult conditions that existed in the transit camps.
There are some 120,000 people of Ethiopian background living in Israel today, 80,000 of them born in Ethiopia and the rest Israeli-born. The population of the Ethiopian community is relatively young compared to the general Jewish population: children up to 14 comprise a third of the population (as opposed to a quarter in the overall) and only 5% are above the age of 65 (as opposed to 11%). Around 20% of the community came to Israel by 1989, most with Operation Moses, and some 46% of the new immigrants came in the 1990’s, half of them in Operation Solomon carried out in 1991.
For those living in Israel, the concert will be broadcast tonight on Channel One.
image courtesy Brian Hendler