Blog: The rocky road of integration of Ethiopian Jews

Thursday, August 27, 2015 |  Israel Today Staff

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The life of the majority of the Ethiopian Jews is characterized by social and economic challenges. This holds true for both, the new Ethiopian immigrants arriving nowadays and Ethiopians who immigrated decades ago and for their children as well.

The biggest waves of immigration were back in the 1980s and 1990s which peaked during operation “Solomon” (1991). Still, the ongoing economic hardship can be seen in the fact that about half of the 125,000 Ethiopian Israelis live under the poverty line. One reason for is that once they arrived in Israel they didn’t have any family to support them and were therefore, economically and financially left on their own.

In addition to economic challenges, they faced cultural differences, language barriers and a lot of those that arrived in Israel were elderly. Due to the fact that most of the older Ethiopians were never eligible for military service after they immigrated, some of them fail to understand the hardships and challenges their children endure while serving or preparing for service in the IDF. The second generation therefore can’t rely on the experiences or understanding of their parents.

Israeli society often expects that the Ethiopian-Jewish community become "Israeli" as soon as possible after their immigration by adopting an Israeli lifestyle and habits. But like all immigrant communities, this community has its own ancient and unique cultural characteristics. Moshe Selomon, a social entrepreneur with Ethiopian roots told the news agency Tazpit that this is one of the reasons why integration attempts often failed in the past. “The authorities tried to integrate us by erasing our special characteristics and heritage.” Such an expectation can be unrealistic and painful to immigrants. “I strongly believe each group in Israeli society contributes its flavor. Therefore, Israeli society should embrace diversity, in order to create a better, more inclusive atmosphere, where there is a place for all the groups that compose Israeli society,” Selomon continued.

To embolden the Jewish-Ethiopian identity and their self-esteem, Selomon brings back successful Israelis of Ethiopian origin to their old neighborhoods, so that they can talk with the children living there and serve as role models. “The Ethiopian community possesses great power,” he explained. “It’s the same power that enabled us to walk for thousands of kilometers in order to immigrate to Israel. This power needs to be harnessed to the benefit of the Ethiopian community and Israeli society.”

This is a blog post from "Bundle of Love - Immigrants" from our "Support Israel" section. We appreciate every donation. In order to help the Land of Israel and her immigrants see "Support Israel".

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