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One People, One Blood

One People, One Blood: Ethiopian-Israelis and the Return to Judaism

Don Seeman
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    One People, One Blood
    Book Description:

    "Little by little, an egg will come to walk upon its own leg."Ethiopian-Israelis fondly quote this bit of Amharic folk wisdom, reflecting upon the slow, difficult history that allowed them to fulfill their destiny far from the Horn of Africa where they were born.

    But today, along with those Ethiopians who have been recognized as Jews by the State of Israel, many who are called "Feres Mura," the descendants of Ethiopian Jews whose families converted to Christianity but have now reasserted their Jewish identity, still await full acceptance in Israel. Since the 1990s, they have sought homecoming through Israel's "Law of Return," but have been met with reticence and suspicion on a variety of fronts. One People, One Blood expertly documents this tenuous relationship and the challenges facing the Feres Mura.

    Distilling more than ten years of ethnographic research, Don Seeman depicts the rich culture of the group, as well as their social and cultural vulnerability, and addresses the problems that arise when immigration officials, religious leaders, or academic scholars try to determine the legitimacy of Jewish identity or Jewish religious experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4843-2
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-11)

    Qäs be-qäs—we ought to proceed with caution.

    Or to cite the whole familiar Amharic proverb,Qäs be-qäs, ənqulal be-əgərou yehedal, which means, “Little by little, an egg will come to walk upon its own leg.” Ethiopian Jews in Israel are fond of quoting this bit of folk wisdom whenever they talk about their own history and the slow, difficult process by which they came to fulfill their destinies so far from the Horn of Africa where they were born. In context,qäs be-qäscan serve either as admonition or as reassurance, as in “Have patience, defer the pleasures of...

    (pp. 12-40)

    We arrive in a white pickup truck with the plain wood coffin of an eighteen-year-old girl—I learned her name was Tigest Mekuriaw—smaller than life, loaded on back. The corpse of an older man who died the same day in an unrelated incident is also being returned from the shed outside Menelik Hospital where rough autopsies and some semblance oftaharah—the cleansing of the bodies before burial—have been performed. My attention is transfixed by the girl though, because she was, like me, a relative newcomer to this place, and because I had witnessed the accident that took...

    (pp. 41-61)

    At some point during their first year in Israel, most Ethiopian immigrants are taken from their schools and absorption centers on a field trip to thekotel, or Western Wall, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The wall has both national and religious significance for many Israelis since it represents the last of the ancient retaining walls of the Temple destroyed by Rome after a Jewish revolt in 70 ce. One of the things that Ethiopian Beta Israel shared with Jews elsewhere in the world was the strong cultural and liturgical focus on Jerusalem not just as a destination for...

    (pp. 62-83)

    The question of kinship could not, by its nature, be answered once and for all by men like Jacques Faitlovitch or Henry Aaron Stern. Both men invoked the fragile certainties of race but also demonstrated by their own example just how delicate an interpretive construct “race” can be. The question of kinship between Beta Israel and foreign Jews derives its hard moral edge precisely from the fact that here an epistemological difficulty meets a moral conundrum. In the absence of truly objective and unqualified criteria, how should different communities decide how far to extend the bonds of solidarity and affiliation,...

    (pp. 84-108)

    Tazza Gember was reputed to be upwards of ninety years old when I encountered her on a rainy summer day in 1993 near the gated entrance to the “Feres Mura” compound in northern Addis Ababa. She was with a group of older women, all regal in their clean whiteshammas, sweeping past me on their way to market. Tazza paused just long enough to recite a verse she had recently written:

    When Israel reigns,

    When [white] foreigners [farenjoch] come,

    Then wisdom is enhanced,

    And my children grow strong.

    She recited the verse again more slowly so that I could record...

    (pp. 109-149)

    One of my first visits to the “absorption center” at Neve Carmel was on the day of Tazza Gember’s firsttazkar(memorial feast), in October 1994.Tazkarwas observed on the fortieth and eightieth days after death in Ethiopia, and up to seven times during the first year, by both Beta Israel and Christians. Observances like these are typically truncated in Israel, but it was a little more than a month since Tazza’s death, and a group of older relatives were busy criticizing her grandson, Sintayeho, for holdingtazkaron the wrong day when I arrived. Others defended him, however,...

  10. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 150-179)

    Not all events that were of ethnographic import to the main themes of this book took place within the “Feres Mura” community alone, or in the microcosm of local social relations at Neve Carmel. On a Friday in late January 1996, an investigative report in the daily newspaperMa’arivbroke a story that changed the whole discourse on immigration and cultural authenticity in fundamental and unexpected ways. A journalist revealed publicly for the first time that the Israeli blood bank administered byMagen David Adom(Red Star of David—Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross) had been routinely destroying blood...

    (pp. 180-212)

    When the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe (1988) sat down to compose an essay on the question “Who is an African novelist?” it is not surprising that he was drawn to its cognate question, “Who is a Jew?” Like David Ben-Gurion, Achebe was writing in a context of postcolonial statehood, transnational migration, and anxiety over the identities—bureaucratic, national, and religious—that the new social order had helped to shape. I find this intervention by an African novelist useful because of the way in which it reminds us that questions of belonging and kinship are universal as well as culturally specific,...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 213-214)
    (pp. 215-232)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 233-240)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)