Featured Ads

Book tells the tale of Ethiopian Jewish life in Israel

“Drawn From Water: An American Poet, An Ethiopian Family, An Israeli Story” by Dina Elenbogen. (BkMk Press, 2015.)

In the past few months the problems facing Ethiopian Jews in Israel have been regularly in the headlines. An Israeli policeman beat an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier, and his actions were caught on video. Hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis began protesting in Tel Aviv, calling attention to Israel’s biased treatment of its Ethiopian citizens. Like African-Americans in the U.S., Ethiopian-Israelis primarily live in low-income housing. Few of them have been given college opportunities. A large percentage of Ethiopian Jewish men are in prisons. Dina Elenbogen’s memoir of her friendship with some Ethiopian families over 25 years presents readers with a more nuanced view of the experiences of Ethiopian immigrants to the Holy Land.

Elenbogen came to Israel in 1984, planning on studying Hebrew at an ulpan and potentially making aliyah. {mprestriction ids="1,3"}After some time in the ulpan, she was asked to work at an absorption center for new arrivals from Ethiopia, teaching them English. There she met two families with whom she has maintained lifelong relationships. Because she is a poet, her memories of these friends is recorded with a light, elegant touch as she traces her life and the lives of her Ethiopian friends over the course of time.

Elenbogen’s closest relationships were with two children, Osnat Melesa and Elad Yamari. Osnat was a serious 10-year-old girl who was always reading. Elad was a curious 4-year-old boy who loved to laugh and play. Although she did not make aliyah, Dina Elenbogen returned every two years or so to Israel, and watched her friends and their families grow up to become genuine Israeli citizens. She maintained journals and photographed her friends as they changed from charming children into serious adults. She also matured over the 25 years, eventually marrying and having children of her own.

“Drawn from Water” brings to life the Ethiopian Israeli community in all its beauty and its agony. Ashkenazi Israelis often call them Cushim, a Hebrew epithet akin to N------ in English. All the Ethiopian boys serve in the army, but when they were asked to donate blood for wounded soldiers, it was discovered that their blood was flushed down toilets because of the assumption that they might be infected with AIDS. Yet, Elenbogen’s friends have succeeded. Osnat did complete university training and earn a degree. Elad served in the army and is now married with a family of his own, working at a good job. “Drawn from Water” presents the bad, but mostly concentrates on the potential for good for the Ethiopian Jewish community and its contributions to Israeli society. This beautiful book should be required reading for anyone who cares about Israel. 

 Andrea Kempf is a retired librarian who speaks throughout the community on various topics related to books and reading.{/mprestriction}