During spring 2013, the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art hosted “Beta Israel: Ethiopian Jews and the Promised Land,” an exhibition that explores the mass migration of Ethiopian Jews into modern Israeli society and the integration difficulties they faced. The exhibition features 100 photographs by South African photojournalist Ilan Ossendryver, who lived in Israel for 20 years.
Over the past 30 years, nearly 100,000 Jews have migrated from Ethiopia to settle in Israel. In the 1970s, there were approximately 100 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel and today there are more than 130,000. As many as 5,000 from this community perished during the early years of this exodus when they were forced to escape on foot and wait for months in disease-prone refugee camps. Others made the journey with assistance during several covert airlift operations, including the 1991 airlift Operation Solomon during which 14,000 Ethiopian Jews made the journey or “aliyah,” a purposeful ascent or going up to the promised land of Israel, during a 36-hour period.
This exhibition explored the mass migration and the incredible challenge of integration in modern Israeli society faced by the Ethiopian Jews, once known as Falasha but more properly called “Beta Israel,” or “House of Israel.” Most were practicing a pre-rabbinic, ancient form of Judaism in which they had no awareness of the Talmud’s existence and so knew nothing of post-biblical holidays such as Hanukkah and Purim. They lived for centuries in isolation in a Third World country and were suddenly thrust into modern life in Israel.
The following lecture and event series accompanied the exhibition:
Wednesday, February 13, 7:00 p.m. “The Last of the Ethiopian Jews – Reaching Their Dream of Living in the Holy Land,” a lecture by featured exhibition artist Ilan Ossendryver, photojournalist based in South Africa, Israel and Ethiopia, and photographer for the book The Ethiopian Jews of Israel: Personal Stories of Life in the Promised Land.
Wednesday, February 20, 7:00 p.m. “Refugee Resettlement in Georgia: Part of a Durable Solution to the Crisis in the Horn of Africa,” a lecture by Paedia Mixon, executive director, and Safia Jama, resettlement manager, Refugee Resettlement & Immigration Services of Atlanta. Mixon will lead the discussion which will address refugee camps in the Horn of Africa and the challenges facing refugees upon their arrival in Georgia.
Wednesday, February 27, 7:00 p.m. “Act II: With a Rose Between Our Teeth,” presented by The Thoroughly Modern Senior Ensemble of the Academy Theatre. Refreshing, upbeat, musical and moving, The Thoroughly Modern Senior Ensemble offers honest and entertaining views of living, loving and aging. A one-hour collection of short scenes and songs, Act II: With a Rose Between Our Teeth is thoroughly real, poignant, heartbreaking… and thoroughly hilarious.
Wednesday, March 6, 7:00 p.m. “The Arts and Peacebuilding,” a lecture by Frank Dominguez, vice president for Arts for Peace, Ltd. Mr. Dominguez has managed major economic and trade development programs in Russia and Western Europe, held a series of senior international management positions, and worked with leading and newly starting nonprofits and groups in developing high profile events, initiatives and organizations in support of social justice and peace. Arts For Peace is a nonprofit that develops new and innovative programs and events in the areas of music, visual arts, performance, dance and communications, and is committed to establishing bridges between the arts community and the work of the UN, the aims of the UN Charter and the realization of a Culture of Peace.
Wednesday, March 13, 7:00 p.m. “Knowledge, Cognition and Cultural Capital Among Non- and Semi-literate Populations,” a lecture by Dr. Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein, post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Department of Human Development and Psychology. In 1985, when she emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel, Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein did not know how to read or write. In 2005, she completed her Ph.D. in education, becoming the first Ethiopian woman to earn a doctorate in Israel. Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein was a teaching fellow at Tel Aviv’s School of Education, Science and Technology (2002-2007); presented key Israeli educational and political issues to world leaders as Emissary for the State of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel (1997-2005); and served on the board of directors overseeing Israel’s Community Centers for the Ministry of Education (1994- 2000). Her field of research examines how illiterate immigrants’ adapt to modern societies, specifically Ethiopian assimilation in Israel. Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein’s lecture is sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeastern United States.
Wednesday, March 27, 7:00 p.m. “The Nightmare Inside the Dream,” a lecture by Morghan Brandon, Oglethorpe University student. To mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Brandon will explore the hopes and dreams of the Civil Rights movement and the sometimes harsh realities of where we are today. Her talk accompanies her independent film/performance project. Brandon is also a founding member of OU’s first black sorority, Epsilon Iota Psi.
Wednesday, April 3, 7:00 p.m. “The Remarkable Unfinished Exodus of the Ethiopian Jews,” a lecture by Len Lyons, author of The Ethiopian Jews of Israel: Personal Stories of Life in the Promised Land. Dr. Lyons, Ph.D. in Philosophy (Brown University), is the author of six books on a variety of subjects, including jazz (three titles published by William Morrow & Co.) and computers (two titles published by Addison-Wesley). Through hosting Ethiopian Israeli students visiting Boston in 2004, he became fascinated with the story of the Ethiopian Jews and their struggle for acceptance in the country that rescued them. He serves on the Ethiopian Jewry Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston.
Wednesday, April 17, 7:00 p.m. “Found in Translation,” a lecture by Rahwa Amha, Oglethorpe University student. Amha discusses her experiences in the U.S. and abroad as an Ethiopian American. Amha, who was born in Atlanta, has also lived for an extended period of time in Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia and explores the cultural shift and adjustment which has become second nature to her.