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

Don See­man
  • Review
By – August 26, 2011
Ever since West­ern­ers first encoun­tered Ethiopi­an Jews, or Beta Israel in the 1800’s, they have elicit­ed deep inter­est and con­cern from West­ern Jews. In 1991, dur­ing a time of polit­i­cal tur­moil in Ethiopia, the State of Israel air­lift­ed approx­i­mate­ly 14,500 Beta Israel from Ethiopia to Israel, and left behind thou­sands of Feres Mura, Beta Israel whose ances­tors had con­vert­ed to Chris­tian­i­ty. Since then, tens of thou­sands of Feres Mura” have emi­grat­ed to Israel, and many more wish to do so. (The author always uses quotes for this term because while it can be con­sid­ered a term of dis­par­age­ment, it is a sig­nif­i­cant and use­ful term.) Don See­man, an ethno­g­ra­ph­er who has been study­ing the Beta Israel com­mu­ni­ty since the 1980’s, has chron­i­cled and ana­lyzed the sit­u­a­tion of the Feres Mura,” both in Israel and in Ethiopia.

See­man has an eye for mul­ti­fac­eted com­plex­i­ty, and a gift for sen­si­tive explo­ration of the many tough issues that the exis­tence of the Feres Mura” has raised: amongst the Beta Israel them­selves, for Ortho­dox reli­gious author­i­ties in Israel, for the State of Israel, and for our under­stand­ings of what it means to be a Jew and what it means to return” to Judaism. See­man spent many years amongst the Ethiopi­an-Israelis (which includes both­Be­ta Israel and Feres Mura”), and he shows Gen­uine affec­tion for them, intro­duc­ing us to a num­ber of dis­tinc­tive Ethiopi­an-Israeli per­son­al­i­ties along the way. The book also offers great insight into the con­cerns and thought process­es of moral­ly seri­ous ethno­g­ra­phers asthey try to accu­rate­ly and fair­ly rep­re­sent the sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ences of the peo­ples they study, know­ing full well that their work may have ram­i­fi­ca­tions for their subjects.

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