Thursday, September 06, 2007

Ethiopian Jews vs AA Jews

As I stated before, my parents came to America in the 60s and I am a first generation American. Like most immigrants, they came with the hopes of a better life for their children in the USA. (I conveniently changed all that when I came to Israel, but that's another story). Living in America, I observed a lot of the culture conflicts that was going on between black America vs white America; "minorities" vs majority; and even the interesting spillover conflicts such as Puerto Ricans vs Mexicans and how it played out in their new homeland, America.

With great effort, I managed to skirt a lot of the issues. However, I did learn the proper norms of living in African American world. Little things such as nodding to a 'brotha' or a 'sistah' as a sign of recognition and comeraderie when walking down the street.

Unfortunately, there were some mores I didn't care for, like being whistled at or hearing the "girl you looks good! I wont some! " comments which I completely ignored.

However, now I'm in a different "black" neighborhood. LOLOL This new black neighborhood is called black because the people typically wear white shirt, black slacks, black hats, and black coats. The women usually dress in black too!

Actually, I have one foot in the "black" neighborhood and one foot straddling the rest of the Jewish Orthodox world. Which one is stronger, that remains to be seen.

In my new neighborhood(s), I have new norms and mores to learn. I remember once, I was walking down the street and saw up ahead was an Ethiopian Jew. He was stationed as a security guard for a store and was sitting outside on a stool. As I approached I wondered if I should say "hi" or nod. Does he even know about such things? Do Ethiopians nod to one another as a sign of comeraderie? They don't have the same history as AA people, so it may be different.

I was getting closer and had to make up my mind. Nod or ignore.

When I finally got up to him, I decided i've got more to lose if I don't nod (maybe he'll think i'm a snob, or maybe he'll feel rejected or something) So, I gave him a cool smile and a nod.

O boy! was that a MISTAKE !!!!!

just as I passed, his (also Ethiopian) friend came outside too. So it seemed like I nodded to both of them. The security guard gave out a high pitched noise -I guess the Amharic equivalent to the American "WTF?!!!"

Needless to say, I quickened my pace and turned a corner as fast as I possibly could!


Ehav Ever said...

Hey Miriam,

I met a lady last year whose daughter had a friend who was an African American Jew going to a woman's Yeshiva (I think). She mentioned that the girl stated that she didn't like Ethiopian Jews. From what I was told the girl tried approaching some Ethiopian Jews with the whole, what's up my brother/sister thing. I guess she didn't like their reaction to it.

Yes, when I was in Ethiopia there wasn't a what's up my brother thing. This is especially true since there are about 50 or so different ethnic groups all with different languages and cultures. One of my adopted cousins there could spot the different ethnic groups within a few seconds. They had cousins who were Oromo, they were Tigrinye, and both sides of the family spoke different languages. Most of the Oromo also spoke Amharic. This was also the case when it was easy to tell that a person was not Ethiopian.

Normally, if they can easily tell your not Ethiopian Jewish it may only pay to say a shalom in passing without a nod or anything. You also have a realize that they are just like other people. Saying hello to some African American people in America could get you the same response.

When I lived in Kansas City there was no what is up and nod thing. When me and some friends of mine went to college in Texas, the Texas African Americans called us mean and cold because we didn't respond to the whole what is up and nod thing. My friends back then were like the dirty dozen as it was. A few were Sunni Muslims, a few were Christians, a few were Nation of Islam, and then there was me.

I had one friend who thought they were trying to fight him when they said What's Up to him. That is because most of the time, during the late 80's somewhat due to the gangs that had come from LA, saying What's Up in Kansas City to someone meant you wanted to fight them.

Ehav Ever said...

Oh, I just remembered my Ethiopian Israeli friends in NY sometimes had problems with African Americans. They mentioned that they had no idea of what it meant to be "black" until they came to America. For them in Israel, you speak Hebrew you are an Israeli and that is it for the most part.

They said that there were African Americans who would come up to them and talk to them as if they should understand certain "black" American culture. The whole thing was real confusing to them since many of those things don't exist outside of the US. Especially since most societies in this part of the world are based on your family, your neighorhood, etc. a bit more than simply your cultural identity.

One Ethiopian Israeli security guard here in Maale Adummim who thought I was an Ethiopian Jew once started asking me where I was from I told him the world tour, and he said No, no, where did your family come from?

Just like when I am with Teimanim, normally the connection is more than just being Teimani it is knowing certain families and such. Also, knowing people from certain towns is a part of it. When I go around and I talk to people I always mention my Mori in Natanya. His uncle Rabbi Ovadyah Ben-Shalom is VERY well known. I once went to a Beit Keneseth in Natanya where I wanted to take pictures and I told them my mori was Mori Yair Ben-Shalom. Everyone said Ben-Shalom? You can take photos of anything you want. In fact Avi here will take you to a few more Beitei Keneseth so you can take more pictures. Also, I have met Aharon Amram and Rabbi Yehudah Gamliel so when you mention specific people, specific locations, and specific like Baladi or Shami that is the connection.

I think you just have to look at them the same way you would any other Israeli.

I am glad to not have to do the What's Up nod thing. I used to get so confused when I was in college with it because I didn't grow up with it. Where I grew up we only did that when we knew people.

Tania said...

Say what? that's some crazy stuff. I wonder why they acted like that, I mean, common curtesy is common curtesy know what I mean? shouldn't matter who it is, but I guess to them it does.

Hmmph, what do I know, the ones around here always seem to think that I'm one of them and when they speak to me in their language and I don't understand they get mad at me, like I'm trying to deny my heritage and trying to be american or something. Whatevs! you did the right thing.

Mes Deaux Cents said...


Regarding Ethiopian Jews, I have heard in a few different news reports that at times they (Ethiopian Jews) have been treated poorly in Israel.And that there are segregated areas and also their unemployment rate is unusualy high. Is that true from what you know or have the reports been wrong?

By the way I just found your blog, it's very interesting.


Miriam said...


Thanks for stopping by!

re: Ethiopian Jews, from what i've seen, there's a lot going on.

First off, almost everyone who comes to Israel as a new immigrant gets segregated LOL. sad but it happens- not the way you think, though.

They go and live in an absorption center in the beginning for low cost and get free Hebrew lessons, and whatever else.

Others, if they can afford it, go straight to finding an apartment -Ethiopian or not- or living with friends if they have, etc.

Thus the segregation business is not solely to hurt the Ethiopians, as i'm sure ppl would have you think. Its more to inculcate people into the society slowly. Some move out faster. Some, if income is a problem, never move out of the absorption centers.

(I personally, ended up in a youth hostel, then went to a seminary).

Now, for unemployment, its high for the Ethiopian men, and the women seem to be able to get jobs faster. In comparison to the rest of Israel, I am not sure. I do know that many came with just the shirt on their backs and so probably had no skills or are in school. This is what i learned when I worked at IAEJ -an advocacy group for Ethiopian Jews.

I think the bottom line is this:
There are some people (and especially lots of "support agencies" who need a purpose to exist and get funds, etc) that-no matter what a black person does -they really want to try to feel positivity towards them, but the best that they can muster is pity"! So, whatever is done, said, seen is through the eyes of pity -let's feel sorry for the poor black,...etc. Their victories are overlooked, their success are overshadowed, etc.

I even suspect the advances of the Ethiopian people are a threat to these people/ groups. (their superiority complex gets rubbed the wrong way or then they'll have no one to "help" and get funds to help).

But I think the Ethiopians are struggling and succeeding just like most other groups here -Maroccans, Yemenites, Turkish Jews, etc. Yes there are those from richer countries who do much better: French Jews, American Jews. And those who come from skill promoting places and so come in with skills such as the Russians (but they have other problems).

Lastly, the problem that I do see -er saw- with them. Is this: in Israel, i've learned that a certain level of chutzpah/ boldness is needed. A level of boldness to push and get what you want /need. Many Ethiopians are very VERY demure, very sweet, and would never dare to be pushy.

That's all changing, though, with time, so they are doing alright I think.

They are struggling. All us Jews are struggling. So much on our plate. So much against us. But we are a family. In the end, we are a family.

Mes Deaux Cents said...


Thanks. This is why I love blogs, the interaction, when you see or read a news report, that's it. You can't ask questions, you are just left wondering.

So thanks for the information and thanks for the post.

Ehav Ever said...

Before I moved to Israel I worked with with an Ethiopian Israeli organization that was trying to do something to help Ethiopian Israelis living in NYC. The problem that was that none of them lived together as a community. When compared to other Jews in NY Syrian Jews, Persian Jews, Yemenite Jews, Moroccan Jews, etc. the main difference was that none of the Ethiopian Israelis when they came to NYC moved into the same area and formed a community.

I tried to convince that if they did this they could then be a social and financial inspiration to Ethiopian Israelis living in Israel.

The other thing is that the Ethiopian Israels who are doing the best here are the families who came here in the early 1970's. They have had more time to acclimate to Israeli society, which takes time no matter where you come from.

There were also some Ethiopian Jews who were expecting to come here and it to be like it is in the Bible. So imagine your whole perspective about Israel being that is ONLY the Holy Land and you will live like King David, King Solomon, etc. Then you arrive and the culture shock hits. What is a bank account, what is a mortgage, what is inflation, what is driver's license, what do I do when I need to complete a tax form? In Ethiopia, Jews were forced not to own land by the ruling Ethiopian ethnic groups going back several hundred years. They mainly lived in rural parts of Ethiopia where there wasn't much in the way of technology or contact with the Western World. So there is a huge element of culture shock that has to be factored in.

Also, as Miriam pointed out it is not easy for anyone here. Israel has a lot of good points and it also has its points of difficulty. Every mass immigration here had some problem somewhere and it is not easy to take thousands of people and try to integrate them into a society overnight.

You also have other immagrants who are fighting for the same amount of small resources and such. All in all though Ethiopian Israelis are well respected by a large number of Israelis. They are known as being industrious and also nice people. A tour guide once said, With the Ethiopian Jews when they came here they wanted to be in the Holy Land so bad that any job you gave them they took it because they were doing it in Israel. When the Russian Jews came here they were picky about they were willing to do and not do. Nothing was good enough for the Russian Jews and they are bossy.

The best way for a 3rd World immigration to work here is for the children to go into the military and get whatever skills they can there. Move up in rank as much as possible, get the technical trade and the leadership skills. Many Ethiopian Israelis have been doing well by way of military service.

Miriam said...

Ehav -I bought the Edan Rachel CD -both of them.

Ehav Ever said...

He has a third one, but it is a compilation of the first two CD's. It is the best of both CD's. I read up on Idan Rachel and he has an interesting story or how he go started in music while he was in the IDF.