Ethiopian Haggadah connects the generations

Ethiopian Jewish immigrants attend a rehearsal Passover dinner at the Absorption Center in Mevasseret Zion, outside of Jerusalem, March 25, 2010. (Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

As the Passover holiday approaches, members of Israel’s Ethiopian community have received a meaningful gift with which to celebrate. The Bnei Akiva religious Zionist organization has created a Passover Haggadah written in both Hebrew and Amharic designed to help Israel-born children of Ethiopian immigrants connect with their parents’ history and their journey from Ethiopia to the Promised Land.

The Haggadah is a Jewish text read during the Passover meal (seder) that commemorates the biblical Exodus from Egypt.

While Ethiopian Jews have been immigrating to Israel since the mid 1930s, the majority arrived in two large waves organized by the Israeli government in 1984 and 1991 respectively. There are now around 130,000 Israeli citizens of Ethiopian descent.

Many second or third generation Israeli-Ethiopian youngsters know nothing of Ethiopia or the lives their parents and grandparents had lived there. Moreover, many are unaware of hardships their forefathers suffered in Africa or of difficulties they may have experienced in reaching Israel.

The Haggadah project represents an effort to connect these young people with their heritage. Indeed, Jews read a Haggadah at Passover in order to fulfill the biblical command: “And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:8)

In the run-up to the holiday, the Bnei Akiva branch in Beersheba in southern Israel organized for groups of students to meet with and listen to the mother or father of one of them relate the story of their immigration.

“My grandfather used to tell us about the Holy Land. He would say that a day would come, and we would go up to Israel,” One parent, Kassa Aharon-Mahari, told Ynet News. “They should be proud of their roots and traditions, and that’s why I think it’s a beautiful project.“

After Aharon-Mahari had shared her experiences with the group, her 15-year-old son Shai reflected on his mother’s story.

“I was moved by the fact that other children heard the story of my mother in great detail and that they know the heritage of my family,” he said. “All of us children must listen to our parents’ stories and understand what they’ve been through.”

Bnei Akiva Secretary Yair Shahal summarized the project and the reason for executing it.

“We believe that a strong connection between the generations is a significant thing in shaping the personality of young people,” Shahal said. “Only a people connected to its history can look forward.”

“And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying:
It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”

Exodus 13:8