Aba Minas is leader of the Jambaria gedam, one of 15 hidden Jewish religious centers in Ethiopia’s North Shewa region.
Aba Minas is leader of the Jambaria gedam, one of 15 hidden Jewish religious centers in Ethiopia’s North Shewa region. (Photo courtesy Friends of the Beta Israel Of North Shewa)

Rabbi Josh Bennett is excited about teaming with the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the arm of the Reform movement outside the U.S., “to develop partnerships to better support the Ethiopians.”

During a May 10 Hadassah Greater Detroit virtual program, “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Hidden Jews of Ethiopia,” Rabbi Josh Bennett of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield will explore the history of Ethiopia’s Jewish community, including the possibility that the Ark of the Covenant may be there, and also present a video about the self-described “Hidden Jews,” numbering more than 150,000 in central Ethiopia.  

Bennett learned of these Jews (called Beta Israel) after Temple Israel member Suzi Colman had a chance meeting in 2018 with young Jewish leaders at their synagogue in Kechene, outside Addis Ababa. She enlisted Bennett to help fulfill her promise to help them.

Bennett joined Colman and a few others on a fact-finding mission in November 2019. They wanted to meet them, see their religious practices and learn how they could help. 

After the trip, Colman, Bennett and David Goldberg, a global Jewish leader from Cleveland, formed the Friends of the Beta Israel of North Shewa, with a nonprofit fund under Temple Israel. 

At the Hadassah meeting, Bennett will talk about efforts by the Friends group, which include helping the Kechene community set up a modest mask-making operation during the pandemic. Working with the Israeli NGO CultivAid to coordinate its efforts, another target is to update agricultural methods. Now, there is excitement about two new opportunities. 

“We are doing amazing work because of a $50,000 Shalom Corps grant,” Bennett said of the global Jewish volunteering initiative of the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. 

“In the last six months, Jewish Ethiopian volunteers working with Israeli staff have put new chimneys on two pottery-making facilities to make them safer. The projects are designed to develop the community and to upgrade the economics of their crafts programming and the facilities in the gedams [the Jewish religious centers, through the Adopt-a-Gedam program].” 

Bennett also is excited about teaming with the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the arm of the Reform movement outside the U.S., “to develop partnerships to better support the Ethiopians.”

Hadassah’s online program begins at 11 a.m. May 10. Register by May 6 at
hadassahmidwest.org/GDraiders. Cost is $10. A link will be sent May 9.