The Overlooked Beit Avraham in Ethiopia

In an exciting new development, Kulanu has been getting to know the Beit Avraham community in Ethiopia that has been practicing Judaism in secret. The author of this article, Amy Cowen, is a Visual Anthropologist who has done extensive research and documentary photography of Ethiopian Jews both in Ethiopia and in Israel.  She made Aliyah in 2006.  We have now posted her 17-page independent research manuscript and more of her photos at:

Here is the summary of Amy Cowen’s article that appeared in the spring Kulanu Newsletter:

While nearly all Beta Israel have now been accepted and promised eventual access to Israel, there is yet another Jewish community still hidden in Ethiopia’s highlands:  the Beit Avraham or House of Abraham.  Extending from the northern Shewa region south to the capital city of Addis Ababa, the largest enclave of Beit Avraham is located in an area known as Kachene, numbering roughly 50,000.


Although nearly analogous in terms of their history to the remaining Beta Israel, or Falash Mura, this community has been overlooked by Israel and the rest of the Jewish world.  They have no known relatives in Israel at this time and have not taken significant steps to disclose their identity.  The success of other Beta Israel at throwing off the fetters that have silenced them for years has given a small number of Beit Avraham the confidence to defiantly speak the truth.

My one desire is to make my people known to everyone around the world,” said Aselef Teketel, artist and advocate for his community.   Yet, the vast majority of the Beit Avraham remain silent, hidden, and even slowly losing their Jewish heritage.
Click on photos to view album © Amy Cowen
Silenced Beneath a Veil
Silenced by fear, discrimination, and persecution, the Beit Avahram’s ancient past has remained a mystery and closed to outsiders, sometimes even the younger community members themselves.  Similar to the Falash Mura, in an act of survival, the Beit Avraham hid their Jewish identity under a shroud of Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity for centuries.  Rather than completely forfeiting their Jewish identity, the Beit Avraham outwardly appeared Christian, while continuing to secretly practice their forefathers’ faith and Jewish traditions.’

Writer and actor Feleka Abebe says, “My grandmother used to always tell me we’re Jewish; it’s who we are, our heritage.”  Yet, for others, it remained a mystery.  “We were so confused [as children],” said one young man.  Community members shared stories of their parents attending church one minute and in the next going off to the countryside to practice some secret religion.  Continually haunted by the question, “Who am I?” many began to seek out their true identity, and as a result discovered this “secret religion” was Judaism.

For the full article and more photos, click here:
http://cyan.olm.net/~kulanu/ethiopia/longroadhome.php

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