Wednesday, September 14, 2011

It sounds better in Amharic

Last Thurs evening we attended a performance at Netanya Academic College of "It sounds better in Amharic," a one-man show put on in English by an Ethiopian Israeli named Yossi Vassa, co-sponsored by Netanya-AACI and the Forgotten People's Fund that collects money for poor Ethiopian Jews. He was very engaging and charming and one identified with his story.

He described how his family and village decided to leave their homes to go to the mythical "Jerusalem," based on the persuasion of a white Jew, that the children thought must have a terrible disease because they had never seen a white man before (when they got to Israel they found that the disease had spread). They trekked across a wasteland to the Sudanese border for three months mainly using donkeys. There they were cheated and forced to live in a terrible camp with no food and no money for a year, during which his two younger brothers and his grandmother died. Until finally they were taken to an airfield and saw a plane for the first time and flew miraculously to Israel.

They were not taken to "Jerusalem," but to Netanya, which has a large Ethiopian population. Here they tried to maintain their village cohesion, while major changes were occurring to them. They were randomly given Hebrew names, and he was dubbed Yossi because he liked the name of the man who was their absorption manager. The children learned Hebrew and so he became the most important person in his family because his parents had no idea what was going on and he translated for them. The old adult control of the children broke down and they became westernized. Eventually he became an actor, a profession that did not exist in their village, and one that his parents cannot understand ("They pay you for this?").

After the performance there was a question and answer period. He was asked if, after all the suffering and difficulties, he still was glad that he had come to Israel. He answered in the affirmative; even though they suffered on the journey, they were constantly suffering in Ethiopia from anti-Semitism from the predominantly Christian population and there was no future for them there. Many of their people had been forcibly converted to Christianity, and they were constantly being attacked and their land stolen (in fact the remnants of the forcibly converted, called Falash Mura, are currently being flown from Ethiopia directly to Israel where they are converting back to Judaism). Overall it was an enlightening and even inspiring experience.


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