1.7% of the Israeli population consists of Ethiopian Jews, also known as Beta Israel members. They lived quite separately from other Jewish communities and have different customs, and they pray differently. Some of the Sfaradic Rabis even called them the decedents of the Dan tribe, but they are definitely an active part of the Jewish culture, community, and way of life. Here’s some great information about the Ethiopian Jews of Israel.
According to several historical sources, Jewish communities have lived in the area of Ethiopia right after the fall of the First Temple. Some sources believe that they came to Ethiopia by walking through the Niles, from Egypt. They actually influenced some African tribes on the way, and some of them even converted to Judaism.
The community has been through a lot of trouble throughout the Middle ages. There were many struggles between Beta Israel and the other local tribes and kingdoms. They even ruled the area for about 40 years, but they had no chance as the other Ethiopians invaded into their territories and destroyed any possible resistance.
The battle continued on; some of them from the Solomon Dinesty in Ethiopia in the 12th till the 14th century, and some of it from the Christians from the 14th century till the 16th. Christians tried to convert the local Jews by force and some of them complied as they were brutally forced. It sounds obscure, but as that was going on, some of the Christians actually took some of the Jewish traditions, but as an attempt to bring the nation together by force.
Modern Times and Israel for Ethiopian Jews
The Aliya to Israel began in the ’70s, as the Jewish Agency and other modern Jewish scholars and main figures found out about them. The first operation, Moshe, started in 1984, as 5000 Ethiopian Jews already made Aliya on their own. Operation Shlomo came right after, and 15,000 Ethiopian Jews came to Israel right after, in 1991.
The Ethiopian Jews were actually saved during that time due to a local civil war, which would have been devastating to the Jewish community.
Culture of the Ethiopian Community in Israel
The Ethiopian community in Israel has high percentage of IDF drafts. Over 85% percent of the community served or currently serving in the IDF.
The main language that’s being used between Ethiopian Jews is Tigrinya and Amharic, but it’s slowly changing into common Hebrew. They do speak that language at home with the parents that weren’t born in Israel.
Ethiopian cuisine is very well known in Israel and around the world. One of the most common food is Angira, soft pita bread with a bitter taste. You would usually dip it in a meat stew with an Ethiopian special spice (it’s very hot).