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September 05, 1986 - Image 53

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-09-05

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pian excursion was a positive ex-
perience for Edelstein. Not only was
he able to convey messages and
bring photographs and gifts to the
Ethiopians, but a special friendship
was formed with 20-year-old
Zecharia Teke, who made aliyah
three years ago. In Wolleka, Teke's
mother works as a potter and his
father is a metalsmith, yet they are
among the poorest families in the
village because they do not own
land. "Land is the major means of
support there and if someone does
not own land, his status is low,"
Edelstein explained. The plight of
his family is typical, not unique."
Volunteering to help families
like the Tekes entertained much
more than just understanding their
problems. Contributing money fre-
quently and sending families out of
Ethiopia and into Israel is MAEJ's
definition of lending their help. Ac-
cording to MAEJ founder Barbara
Hirshhorn of Ann Arbor, money is
sent to certain targeted Ethiopian
families who have relatives in Israel
and "who have a good chance of get-
ting out. Our goal is to reunite fam-
ily members in Israel with their
Ethiopian families." Edelstein said
MAEJ contributes $50 by mail every
few months to several Wolleka
families. It may not seem like much,
but an Ethiopian farmer's annual
earnings stand at $200, so the con-
tributions go a long way. MAEJ can
never be certain that all contribu-
tions reach the Ethiopians directly,
but we have close control of our
money because our members go to
Ethiopia to supervise it and execute
our plans. Their mail system works
well and (the Ethiopians) have sent
me letters saying they get money."
However, getting families into
Israel is the organizations's top
priority. Edelstein estimates that it
will take from 12 to 18 months and
$5,000 to get the Teke family out.
But, the cost and time spent to bring
them out varies with each Ethiopian
Jew. Edelstein said he met a "bright,
young man" who received a college
degree in biology and wished to pur-
sue studies in the United States. It
may take some time but it won't be
that expensive because he speaks
English well and he will not need
that much help getting around."
Ironically, "emigration from
Ethiopia is legally permitted, but in
reality is not practiced because of
the government, which is a hardline
Marxist military dictatorship,"
Edelstein explained. Despite this,
MAEJ is now helping small numbers
leave Ethiopia through legal means
but he declined to give details.
Statues of Lenin and posters of

A Rich Heritage

Jerusalem — Ethiopian Jews
celebrate Shabbat, Rosh
Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach,
Shavuot, but not Chanukah. They
observe a Fast of Esther, but it is
not the Purim that we know.
They celebrate weddings and cir-
cumcisions, but not b'nai mitzvah
and they don't have rabbis.
These details on the heritage
of the Jews of Ethiopia — who
call themselves Beta Israel (House
of Israel) — are provided by Dr.
Steven Kaplan, a lecturer in Afri-
can History and Comparative
Religion at the Hebrew Univer-
sity, and the co-ordinator of the
Ben-Zvi Institute's research proj-
ect on Ethiopian Jewry.
The anomalies from 'norma-
tive' Judaism in the religious
practices of the Beta Israel stem
from the group's being practically
cut off from the body of world
Jewry for the better part of 2,000
years. As a result of not being ex-
posed to the traditions of Judaism

contained in the Talmud, the
Ethiopians followed only the pre-
cepts contained in the Five Books
of Moses, adding their own mod-
ifications and adaptations from
the surrounding Ethiopian milieu.
So isolated were the Beta Is-
rael that, until they were 'redisco-
vered' by the West in the 18th
Century, they believed that they
were the last Jews in the world.
They found it hard to believe that
most Jews were white.
So it isn't surprising that
they have no rabbis, but rather
kohanim, priests, who were their
religious leaders in Ethiopia, per-
forming circumcisions, weddings
and were responsible for the ani-
mal sacrifices which were carried
out until the 20th Century.
A holiday unique to the Beta
Israel is the pilgrimage festival
Sigd, which is celebrated in late
November. Kaplan explains that
the holiday's purpose is to renew

Continued on Page 66

The Ethiopians once believed that they were the last Jews in the world.

Continued on Page 66


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