From Africa to Zion: The Shep­herd Boy Who Became Israel’s First Ethiopi­an-Born Journalist

  • Review
By – October 28, 2021

The his­to­ry of Oper­a­tion Moses, the air­lift of thou­sands of mem­bers of the Ethiopi­an Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty to Israel, comes to life in Dan­ny Ade­no Abebe’s new book, From Africa to Zion. Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Hebrew as HaMasa Lo Tam, The Jour­ney is Not Over, his mem­oir offers a per­son­al reflec­tion on the chal­lenges of his child­hood jour­ney from the vil­lage of Til­a­ma­do, through Sudan, and to the Jew­ish State. It also shares the com­plex, painful, and ulti­mate­ly inspir­ing strug­gle the author has fought for inte­gra­tion and accep­tance into Israeli soci­ety. Even as Israel’s first Ethiopi­an-born jour­nal­ist, Abebe con­firms that the chal­lenge to live as a full mem­ber of Israeli soci­ety con­tin­ues over thir­ty-five years lat­er. The mem­oir shares many painful moments, such as the chal­lenges his Israel-born chil­dren faced as the only black chil­dren in their class­es. Abebe recalls find­ing his son try­ing to straight­en his hair and ask­ing Dad­dy, why don’t we look good?”

A defin­ing moment in the author’s career came in 1996, when, as the immi­gra­tion and absorp­tion cor­re­spon­dent for Davar Ris­hon, he was asked to write a reflec­tion on the blood dona­tion scan­dal that exposed Israel’s sys­temic racism against a deeply Zion­ist com­mu­ni­ty. The suc­cess of this report led to an oppor­tu­ni­ty to join 7 Days, Yediot Aharonots inves­tiga­tive sup­ple­ment focused on expos­ing Israel’s most painful truths. From here, Abebe would con­tin­ue to devel­op as a jour­nal­ist, at times using the col­or of his skin to gain access to sto­ries where estab­lished, rec­og­nized jour­nal­ists could not. He posed as a jan­i­tor at the wed­ding of Noa Netanyahu to take a pho­to­graph of Bibi, Sara, and Noa. The event was closed to the press.

From Africa to Zion opens with Abebe in con­ver­sa­tion with his par­ents as he gath­ers the courage to write his family’s mem­oir. For years, I had no strength to con­front the past,” the author writes in his intro­duc­tion. As an out­sider, my will to suc­ceed and to prove myself came above all. I tried to find my place in wider Israeli society…I want­ed to be the most Israeli Israeli ever.” That changed when the Ethiopi­an com­mu­ni­ty began to find its voice and demand equal­i­ty. After this moment, the author and his fam­i­ly were invit­ed by the edi­tor-in-chief of Yediot Aharonot to return to Ethiopia. The sig­nif­i­cance of this trip was retold in a fea­ture arti­cle titled This Was Home.” Its pub­li­ca­tion sparked fur­ther inter­est to tell the young gen­er­a­tion of native-born Israelis with frizzy hair: Be proud of who you are.”

From Africa to Zion tells an aston­ish­ing sto­ry of per­son­al tri­umph. At the same time, it chal­lenges us to recon­sid­er how Israeli soci­ety, so proud of serv­ing as a home­land for all Jews, has failed to live up to this oblig­a­tion in both pub­lic and pri­vate ways. Abebe’s book is an impor­tant read for any­thing seek­ing to under­stand Ethiopi­an Jewry’s con­tin­u­ing strug­gle for accep­tance in a place they have longed to return for thou­sands of years.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

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