Saturday, March 23, 2013

From Ethiopia To Israel: An Inspiring Story In Pictures

Jewish Community Affairs

Picture Perfect: U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Yityish Aynaw, 21, (nicknamed Titi),
in the presence of Israeli President Shimon Peres during Thursday's state dinner at the president's residence in Jerusalem. “This has been an unforgettable evening. I can’t believe that I was here, and
that it is already over. Israel’s president introduced me to the American president, and they both complimented me. I can’t tell you how exciting this has all been,” Renne Ghert-Zand of The Jewish
Daily Forward reported.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shimon Peres
An article, by Tinbete Ermyas, in NPR reports on the Ethiopian Jews (also called Beta Israel) and compares their life in Ethiopia to that in Israel. The transition is also nicely shown in a photo essay by Ilan Ossendryver, a South African photojournalist:
His decades-long body of work is now represented in the exhibit "Beta Israel: Ethiopian Jews and the Promised Land," at the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in AtlantaOssendryver admits that he didn't know much about Ethiopian Jews before receiving an assignment years ago to cover their migration to Israel. Turns out that assignment wasn't so easy.
He recalls one of his first stops — an "absorption center" — in the southern Israeli town of Ashdod, where immigrants learn Hebrew and "get acclimatized to living in Israel." He brought his camera, "but they weren't very happy about photography at the time." The newly arrived immigrants were shy and uncomfortable about being photographed. But Ossendryver wanted to capture what he saw as resilience in a community stuck between two cultures in two countries.
His images offer a snapshot into the contemporary life of a community with a history that may not be well-known to many. And it may not be well-known because it is not entirely clear.The contested origin story of the Ethiopian Jewish community has made the ongoing migration to Israel — which has happened in waves for decades — a complicated one. Jewish ancestry determines whether one has a right to Israeli citizenship. Over the years, many Ethiopian Jews have lived as Christians, for example, to escape persecution — often going as far as tattooing crosses on their foreheads.
For Ossendryver, photography can do what historical analysis and DNA testing can't: examine how the community actually lives today. The exhibition actually shows two groups: One still in Ethiopia, striving to make sense of its identity and trying to blend in while sustaining its traditions; the other group is seeking to carve out a new life in Israel.
All transitions are hard, as is all immigration to a new nation, which has its own traditions, culture and language. But what likely binds these Ethiopian Jews together is that they now represent a significant number in Israel: about 78,000 have landed in Isreal since 1980. Equally important is the shared religion of Judaism, which has survived for thousands of years, proving its resilency in the face of adversity. It also about the future, and immigration is always about establishing a better life.

The children of these immigrants today have a better chance of adapting and adopting the customs of their chosen land, Israel, and becoming successful citizens. There's the inspiring example of Yityish Aynaw, Israel's beauty queen (crowned Miss Israel 2013), who met with U.S. President Barack Obama at Thursday's state dinner in Jerusalem during his visit to the region. The 21-year-old emigrated to Israel from Gondar, Ethiopia, when she was 12; she was raised by her granparents after both her parents had died in Ethiopia.

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You can read see the wonderful photo essay and read the rest of the article at [NPR]