The Friends of the Beta Israel of North Shewa team returned from its mission to Ethiopia last November with community priorities for aid.
The community’s highest priority is for a Jewish cemetery.
“My greatest fear is I will have no place to be buried when I die,” Merede Tegegne of Kechene tearfully told the visitors. “Our people know they are not Christians. They know very well they are Beta Israel . . . When we get a burial place, 5,000-10,000 people will come out [of hiding].”
Community leaders agree a cemetery will encourage more Jews to emerge in Kechene. U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Michael Raynor and Israeli Ambassador Raphael Morav promised to talk with Addis Ababa’s mayor about land. An attorney has been retained to assist the community, funded by the Friends.
– The Friends have paid 18 months rent on a Kechene synagogue, also to function as a community center with lodging for Ethiopian Israeli volunteers and for visiting abas (teachers) from the hidden gedams (small religious communities) outside the city. A center also is planned in Debra Brehan in North Shewa.
– 100 Hebrew/Amharic prayer books were delivered; funds are being raised for a Torah.
The Hidden Jews produce crafts using primitive tools and outdated designs. Goals are for better working conditions, technology and marketing, bringing self-sustainability.
The Israeli NGO CultivAid is under contract, with founder Tomer Malchi serving as the Friends’ coordinator/strategic planner in Ethiopia for efforts relating to vocational, educational and agricultural needs to uplift the Hidden Jews. Malchi has made a grant request of $250,000 to the Jewish Federation of Cleveland to train Ethiopian craftsman with faculty from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. The grant also seeks to bring young Jewish Clevelanders to Ethiopia. Because of COVID-19, this is on hold.
At Jambaria gedam in North Shewa, CultivAid worked with the community to install a pepper spice mill and to plant fruit trees and vegetables. A gas-powered plow is coming, as well as assistance from CultivAid experts in growing crops, improving nutrition and self-sustainability. Some training of locals is under way and more is expected.