Black Ethiopian Jews you should know (with video and links)

Years ago, in the Spring of 2015, anti-racism protests took place across Israel, culminating in clashes with police in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The size of the protests and the demand for changes in society by Ethiopian Israelis took some in the public by surprise. For a variety of reasons racism against the community, including inequality and discrimination in many sectors, had gone unreported for years.

The spark for the 2015 protests was a video of police assaulting an IDF soldier named Damas Pakedeh in Holon. The response of the government was quick and symbolic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, police commissioner Yohanan Danino and MK Avraham Neguise (Likud) met with Pakedeh in May 2015. But statistics showed major inequalities in society, including communities concentrated in poorer towns, low national test (Meitzav) scores, higher dropout rates and higher incarceration rates. Although narrowing, the gaps were clear.

Although strides have been made, much needs to be done to address inequality and also racism, as revealed by a recent incident in the army where an officer used racist terms against a soldier. The officer was punished.

One issue that is important is highlighting Ethiopian Israeli activists and leaders. This is especially true in English speaking forums where there is often a divide between Hebrew speaking black Jews in Israel and diaspora discussions about Jews of color or black Jews. This includes a lack of awareness sometimes regarding Ethiopian Jews and their struggles in Israel.

In recent years we have seen a variety of American publications run articles about “Black Jews you should know,” that don’t mention even one black Jew in Israel. Considering the rise in intersectionality awareness one would think that Ethiopian Jews and their issues would appeal to discussions around the world about discrimination, integration, police profiling and these types of issues. Yet, articles too often still neglect to include Ethiopian voices, even when having a “roundtable” in the US with voices from Jewish minority communities. A series of articles in May 2020 discussed “Jews of color” and even used a photo of Ethiopian Jews, without mentioning the 150,000 members of the community. A list of writers “writers who perfectly capture what it’s like for Jews of color,” didn’t even include one Jew of color from the community in Israel. An article at Heyalma on February 16, 2021 mentioned Black Jews who had lived in the UK or US and even “Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, rabbi of the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda, is the first native-born Black rabbi in Sub-Saharan Africa,” but not one Ethiopian Black Jew or any Black Jews or Jews of color in Israel. The same publication has highlighted Ethiopian Jewish articles in the past though here and here and here.

To begin to remedy this and provide a handy list of black Ethiopian Jewish leaders, activists, personalities, celebrities, authors, producers, politicians and other influences, I began to compile some names with links. This is a work in progress and the names appear in no particular order.

Oshra Friedman –

Media figure, deputy manager Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, see link to her story

Rav Dr. Sharon Shalom –

Lecturer in Ono Academic College, rabbi in Kdoshei Israel in Kiryat Gat. “In January 2019, Ono Academic College established the world’s first center for the study of Ethiopian Jewish heritage (International Center for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry). Its founding chair, Rabbi Dr. Shalom Sharon, is a renowned Ethiopian-Israeli community leader, author and scholar,” see further details.

Menashe Zalka –

Captain of HaPoal Hadera (soccer), he was a torch lighter for independence day, in the army he was in the reserves and combat soldier.

Shai Faredo –

Actor, director, see his clip and some history. He is also involved with “Sigdiayad” related to the Sigd holiday for several years.

Attorney Shlomit Barhanu –

Anti-racism activist, social activist, worked with MK Yitzhak Herzog, see her bio

Gen. Dr. Avi Yitzhak –

Doctor in the army, see his bio. A commander for the health in the southern district, he was a torch lighter for independence day in Israel.

Pnina Tamano Shata –

Member of Knesset, activist, see her Knesset bio and speaking to media

She was sworn in as leader of this department, also titled Minister of Immigrant Absorption, on 17 May 2020.

Yuvi Teshome-Katz –

Local social activist, community service, Independence Day torch lighter in 2011, see her bio

Shmuel Beru –

Film Director, see details and article about his work

Belaynesh Zevadia –

Former Ambassador to Ethiopia, diplomat, see the article

Esti Almo Wexler –

Director, see article about her work, also here and her film, and see Abayenesh Productions.

Alam-Warqee Davidian –

Director ‘Fig tree,’ see article about the film

Ester Rada – 

Actress and singer, see her video and articles about her

Danny Adeno Abebe –

Journalist, read one of his articles . According to a biography from Limmud,“Born in Ethiopia, Danny made aliyah to Israel in 1984 via Operation Moses. In Israel, he went to yeshivah, served in the IDF, and is a well-known journalist. Currently, he serves as the Shaliach for Habonim Dror South Africa and for the World Zionist Organization with his wife (Aviva) and children.”

Efrat Yerday –

Writer, read her articles and an interview with her

Avraham Neguise –

Former Member of Knesset, activist, see this story. “Born in 1958, his Knesset biography notes, “immigrated to Israel from Gondar, Ethiopia in 1985. He holds a Ph.D. in Education from Sussex University in England, a BA and MA in Social Work from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a MA in Initiatives and Renewal from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne Australia, and a LLB from the Sha`arei Mishpat Academic Center. He is a social worker and jurist by trade, and served as Director General of ‘South Wing to Zion’ – an association promoting the immigration and absorption of Ethiopian Jews.” he received a PhD from Sussex University.”

Dr. Nigist Mengesha –

She is the head of the education department in Rosh HaAyin, see story about her experience, director-general of ENP and also the Association for the Education and Integration of Ethiopian Immigrants.

Dr. Simcha Getahon –

Academic in Bar-Ilan. Chairwoman of the Mercaz HaMoreshet of Yehudut Ethiopia (Research and Heritage center) which is supposed to be established.

Accountant Amir Sabahat –

Social activist, now he is involved in encouraging connections between Israel and Ethiopia. See link to an article.

Attorney David Avta –

Created the project ‘Sipur al HaDerech’ helping bring Ethiopian exposure to Israeli society. More than 1,000 meetings have been held. Details from the website, “The stories of the road initiative was established in May 2015, after the protest of Ethiopian community by attorney David (Dersley) Abeta, in order to connect Israeli society to the story of Ethiopian Jewry, which is the story of us.”

Gidon Agaza –

Photographer (see his website)

Avi Yalou –

Social activist, anti-racism, see link to his Facebook, network director of Olim BeYachad. Helped to create a forum for struggling against racism, including with the Ministry of Law.

Aweke Kobi Zena –

Head of the unit at the Ministry of Law combating racism. He was also a senior deputy in the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office where he was a litigator focused on criminal cases. An article in 2017 notes “In the Ministry of Justice, attorney Aweke Kobi Zena was chosen to head the Anti-Racism coordination Unit, a unit whose task it is to receive complaints and ensure that they are properly handled, to monitor the implementation of all decisions (including changes in legal guidelines, new police procedures, etc.) and advance recommendations dealing with the positive presence of Ethiopian immigrants in the public sphere. It is clear that in the past year, decisions have been made in the judicial system that attest to the internalization of the findings and recommendations of the report, civil and criminal.” Details from Israel’s mission of the UN to Geneva also include comments from her as part of its periodic review.

Kasa Getoo –

Anthropologist, social activist and project manager at Olim Beyahad. See a video with her speaking (above).

AvivA –

Singer. An Ethiopian-Israeli singer and songwriter. She told an interview in 2017 “My parents made Aliyah during the famine of 1984, after being airlifted to Israel as a part of Operation Moses. Their journey began with a long 3-week trek all the way from Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan.”

Judge Ednaki Sebhat Haimowitz –

One of two judges appointed in 2016, she and Judget Esther Tafta Gardi were the first two Ethiopian origin judges in Israel

Judge Esther Tafta Gardi –

One of two judges appointed in 2016.

Tahounia Rubel –

Born in 1988, is an Israeli fashion model, singer, and television personality. Known also for winning the Israeli version of ‘Big Brother’ as the first Ethiopian origin Israeli on the show.

Branu Tegene –

Channel 2 Journalist. Studied at IDC and volunteered at Tebeka Association which worked on Ethiopian issues, later worked at IETV and then at Channel 2.

Yossi Vasa –

Emmy Award 2018 for an Israeli show the won the Best Comedy series at the 46th annual International Emmy Awards in New York. “Nevsu,” depicts a marriage between an Ethiopian man and an Ashkenazi Jewish woman. It became the first Israeli show to include a black lead character on a prime time show, when it debuted last year.

Ashager Araro –

IDF Lieutenant in reserves. Writer. International presenter. Interested in government diplomacy and Middle East conflict.

Yityish ‘Titi’ Aynaw – 

Miss Israel in 2013, is an Israeli model, television personality. She was the first black Israeli to win the Miss Israel crown.

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