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249 CHAPTER 5 The Road to Jerusalem, the Search for Zion: the Literature of Ethiopian-Israelis Beta Israel’s immigration from Ethiopia to Israel posed a challenge to Israeli society in relation to its ability to know, understand, and absorb a group of Jews with completely different religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. For the Beta Israel, immigrating to Israel created a rift between their dream of returning to Jerusalem , a dream that would only be fulfilled after a journey of suffering, and its realization—in which they became an inferior and excluded minority in Israel. Asfu Beru’s story “Shvuat emunim” (Oath of Allegiance), in the collection of short stories Yare’ah aher (A Different Moon, 2002), opens on a dreary morning, as the wind and the rain rattle the walls of a house and its residents—a mother and daughter. The mother either sits still like a statue, or cries, wishing she was dead, as if she “was unable to cross the threshold between the two worlds—this world and the world of the dead.” Since the journey to Israel, when “death walked in all his glory and might and picked off, the helpless fugitives one by one,” death accompanies the broken family and brings life in Israel to a halt. It is a relentless death, a death that “every day and every hour never ceased to harvest souls, often not even waiting between one soul and the next.”1 A father, mother, and eight children embarked on a journey to Israel, but only the mother and two children crossed the gates of Israel. The daughter, the story’s narrator, tries to forget what she had experienced on the journey, but she is pursued by those days of wandering and death that are destroying her mother; and “in the images that flashed before her eyes, sometimes in her dreams, she would see her brothers, younger and older, coming to visit her. Sometimes they would speak with her, and sometimes they were as still and mute as her mother.”2 250 CHAPTER 5 “Oath of Allegiance” is the only story in A Different Moon that is set in Israel; the rest of the stories are set in different spaces. But even in this story, Israel is present only within the memories of life in Ethiopia and of the journey by foot. For the Ethiopian-Jews, Israel and Jerusalem were the object of their prayers and wishful dreams, but when they arrived, “the pain overshadowed the dream. A dream which, for thousands of years, beaconed at the end of the dark tunnel. How much suffering and death have they had to pay in order to cross into the light beyond the tunnel.” And by keeping their faith to “the lost brothers who were buried far away in a foreign land, in an unmarked grave,” those who reached Jerusalem were “dangling between the two worlds . . . always facing both their past and their future.”3 Beru’s story engages with the intricate Jewish-Ethiopian narrative. This narrative is silenced, repressed, and denied. It is a narrative that unravels the dualities of modernity and primitiveness, black and white, self and Other. This narrative is at the core of this chapter. In this chapter I explore literature written by immigrant Ethiopians in Israel. Where does the power of this literature lie? Does it embody the Ethiopian narrative? Can literature written by Ethiopian Israelis contribute to forming the community’s sense of a collective identity on the one hand, and to enabling its embrace by Israeli hegemony, on the other? And in what sense is it a part of Israeli literature? Introduction Beta Israel is the historical name of the Jewish community in Ethiopia and Eritrea , which was cut off from other steams of Judaism over two thousand years ago.4 Members of the Beta Israel lived primarily in mountainous regions, mostly in the Shire region of Tigre, Walkait, the Simien Mountains, Woggera, and Gondar Province. Most of them were nomadic and made their livelihood by herding cattle, weaving, and pottery. Following the law prohibiting Jews to own land they were also called “Falasha” (from the term “other,” “foreign”). They spoke Amharic or Tigrinya. The historical origin of Ethiopia’s Jews is still unclear; they are thought to be the offspring of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, or descendants of the Tribe of Dan that was exiled following the split in the united kingdom of Israel. Some believe them to be descendants of Jews...


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