Bete Avraham, Addis Ababa and more of Ethiopia
One may think that after the last waves of immigration of Falashmura Jews to Israel, there are no more Jews left in Ethiopia. It is very far from being true. There are more than 100,000 Jews of Bete Abraham, also called Beleij Jews, in the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa and towns of Nothern Shewa region, but only about 200 young people practice Judaism openly. Beta Abraham originate from Bete Israel in Gondar. Bete Israel of Gondar and Tigray regions settled in Ethiopia since Biblical times. They have repatriated to Israel and are recognized as the descendants of the tribe of Dan. According to the oral tradition Beta Israel migrated to Ethiopia from Egypt at the time of the Babylonian exile. The first documents describing Beta Israel in Ethiopia date as early as the ninth century. The migration of Bete Abraham from Gondar was gradual with its pick in the 19th century when Emperor Menelik II moved his kingdom from Ankober to Addis Ababa. Skilled in crafts, the community members played an important role in building the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa. Bete Abraham were forcedly converted into Christianity. They were persecuted by the Orthodox Christian neighbours who called them anti-Christs and were deprived of the basic rights such as ownership of land. Though they appeared Christians outwardly, inwardly they never abandoned Judaism and continued practicing Judaism secretly. Today Bete Abraham have 16 synagogues, but only one in Kechene neighbourhood of Addis Ababa holds open services and is open for visitors; the rest of the synagogues still lead only clandestine services, intimidated by persecutions and mistreatments by the neighbours. The religious rituals and traditions are kept strictly in secret and prohibited by the elders from being documented in writing till what they call The Day comes, the time when they can practice Judaism openly and without persecutions. The traditions and culture of Ethiopian Jews are unique in every aspect. Demeke Ben Engida, the chazan of the Kechene synagogue, is not only the owner of outstanding voice, but also the keeper of the Bete Abraham musical traditions. He and his friends had courage to write down the music of Beta Avraham and openly perform it during religious services and record for this CD.