THE BETA ISRAEL PROJECT:
Jews in the African Diaspora
In New York City in the 1970's, this photograph was as iconic as the Statue of Liberty. It spoke to the broad appeal of Levy's Jewish Rye bread across a diverse cultural demographic. That point was driven home by the image of a young boy who, by appearance alone, "couldn't possibly be Jewish" enjoying a sandwich made with Levy's Rye.
While it sold bread, it also had the effect of further embedding the stereotype that there are none of African descent among the Jewish people.
Since 2008, the My City, My World programs have been a catalyst for communication and cultural understanding for youth in the U.S., South Africa and Cuba. Our projects have not only provided the opportunity for young people from divergent cultural backgrounds to gain insight into the lives of their global neighbors, they have also often given new context to previous (mis)conceptions.
In our ongoing effort to build global relationships through broader understanding, My City, My World collaborated with the JCC of Indianapolis (Jewish Community Center ) to create a contemporary profile of the Ethiopian Jews - the Beta Israel.
By some sources, the Beta Israel (House of Israel) are the descendants of one of the Ten Lost Tribes, linked with the tribe of Dan. They practice an ancient form of biblical Judaism prescribed by the Orit, the Torah as translated into the Gez dialect.
During the course of a 21 day field study in Israel My City, My World produced an intimate portrait of the contemporary life of a community with an often contested history of which all too little is known to much of the world. This marginalization of the legacy of the Ethiopian Jewish community has made the migration to Israel, and the subsequent transition, a complicated one. While individuals like Knesset members Moshe Salomon Pnina Tamano-Shata and the 2013 Miss Israel Yityish "Titi" Aynaw have achieved prominence in Israeli society tens of thousands of faceless others continue to struggle for inclusion.
This project is made possible through the support of: