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Ethiopian Jewish Identity

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Claire Wright

on 14 November 2016

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Transcript of Ethiopian Jewish Identity

Beta Israel
Origins of Ethiopian Jewish Communities is disputed- 2 popular claims
1. Descendents of the Dan Tribe - one of the lost ten tribes of Israel
2. Group of Ethiopian Christians began practicing old testament traditions and converted to Judaism in 14th-16th century

Reconnected with other Jewish communities in the 20th century.
Reasons for Immigration

1948 - Israel declared itself an independent state

1974: Mengistu communist/militaristic regime came to power and stopped Beta Israel connection to other Jewish communities.

1975 - Israeli Government recognized members of Beta Israel community as Jews

1983-1984: Emigration was outlawed but Famine in the Horn of Africa -
Many walked to Sudan
4,000 Ethiopian Jews died en route because of starvation, robberies and disease
Ethiopian Jews in the Promised Land
1990s saw rising crime rates among Ethiopian youths, low education achievement + low access to better schools.

Highest poverty rate among Jews in Israel, and high unemployment

2015 - large protests against police violence after two policemen beat up an Ethiopian Israeli soldier

Alternative Identities to Israeli
Identities claimed reflect social processes such as marginalization and alienation
Self-identifiying as a black Jew instead of an Israeli

Looking at the choice and participation in music genres reflects important identities people claim
Choice of black diasporic musics (Reggae and Rap) allows them connect with experiences of marginalization in black communities around the world

Immigration to Israel
1984: Operation Moses: Israel orchestrated secret airlifts to transport ~8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel

1991: Operation Solomon: In 48 hrs Israel transports ~40,000 after the fall of the Derg.

1948-2013: Over 91,000 Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel

As of 2011 - 130,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel. In Ethiopia ~ 4,000.
Ethiopian Jewish Identity
Upon arrival faced with:
1. Customs and traditions were different
2. Leaders questioned their 'Jewishness'
3. Different job skills needed
4. Racism based on skin color
5. No knowledge of Hebrew

Ester Rada "Feelin' Good"
Ester Rada Feelin' Good

Nina Simone cover - influential African-American artist, involved in Civil Rights movement, ideas tied to Pan-Africanism

Soul, reggae, and ethio-jazz incorporated

Ester Rada "Life Happens"

"Life Happens"
Ethiojazz and soul elements alternate

Instrument choice reflects traditional and popular musics from Ethiopia and America

Visuals alternate between 1960s Addis Ababa and dress from 1960s-1980s African-American and Ethiopian styles

"The visual image of an Ester-self from the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s, playing different instruments, in different modes of ethnic dress, needs no explanation beyond the aesthetic statement of collage-like multidirectional influence coming from Ethiopia, the USA, and Jamaica (but not from Israel)" (Webster-Kogen 2015, 5).
Axum "Pocket Full of Money"
Jeremy Kool Habash
"These multidirectional musical influences track the movements of people according to the constantly shifting status of Ethiopians across their host societies, and... musicians actively reshape cultural boundaries on behalf of displaced populations" (Webster-Kogen 2015, 3).
Ethiopian Music
I. Pentatonic - 5 note scale
II. Melody more important than rhythm
III. Heterophony and monophony prominent as well as multiple melodic phrases
Ethiopian Pop Music Influences
1960s Western military band styles
1970s American jazz, latin rhythms (cuban) - use of congas =ethiojazz
Full transcript