Source: The Times of Israel
Michal Shmulowitz writes about a Jewish Agency-affiliated pilot program, Samai (“the sky” or “listen to me” in Amharic), that brought 15 Israeli-Ethiopian teens on a visit to their ancestral homeland earlier this month. They were a light-hearted, polite, and often hilarious group of 16 to 18-year-olds, many of them Orthodox, from all corners of Israel.
"To bring Israeli-Ethiopian teens back to their ancestral homeland, to show them the place they came from and the world their parents grew up in, is the purpose of the Samai “birthright” program, of which this was the pilot trip. It’s the brainchild of Danny Adeno Abebe, an Ethiopian-Israeli activist and Yedioth Ahronoth reporter, who claims Ethiopian-Israeli youth are lost in their search for identity.
Samai seeks to boost the teens’ sense of their Israeli selves through their Ethiopian-ness – an identity that’s been, in part, stripped down and washed away during their process of adapting to a new life in Israel — and help them integrate the two identities…
Abebe, who speaks with calm clarity, said desperation within the Ethiopian-Israeli community led him to look for new alternatives. Ethiopian Jews have been Israel for some 30 years. A majority of the 125,000-member community live beneath the poverty line….
The idea for the trip came from his own life story. As a young soldier at Army Radio, Abebe’s commander and mentor, Moshe Shlonsky, urged him to return to his roots. “To get your Israeli identity, you’ve got to go back to Ethiopia, the place from where you became an Israeli,” Shlonsky told him. “Understanding your heritage will give you strength.”
The words stuck with Abebe, who hadn’t been back to his birthplace since he was 9, when his family fled to Sudan and was airlifted to Israel during Operation Moshe in 1984. Although he had planned a trip to South America after his army service, he stopped in Ethiopia for 10 days. He kept the visit a surprise, and when he told his dad back in Israel, his father broke down in tears. It was the first time Abebe saw his father — a security guard at a mall whose supervisor, 20 years his junior, had yet to learn his name — show emotion, let alone cry.
Ultimately, Abebe came to understand that his trip back to Ethiopia didn’t just help him bridge the rift that had grown between himself and his father, and it didn’t just help him appreciate his colorfully rich past. It had also, finally, given him a sense of self….
Read the entire story about Samai at The Times of Israel.