‘The Ethiopian Jews of Israel: Personal Stories of Life in the Promised Land” (Jewish Lights Publishing), a new book of interviews conducted by Len Lyons and containing photographs by Ilan Ossendryver, explores the complexities of the modern Ethiopian-Israeli experience. For years, thousands of Ethiopians waited to be airlifted to a land of milk and honey, only to learn that Israel’s milk is sometimes spoiled, its honey bittersweet.
Now, students, professionals, kessim (high priests), artists and soldiers speak of leaving behind an ancient life of farming and shepherding, and of being thrust into bustling modernity. Though they broach painful issues — second-class status, illiteracy, professional integration and the search for acceptance — the book celebrates their achievements. Most remarkably, even after encountering disapproval of their kessim and rituals, Ethiopians feel a deep love for Israel, where they can be openly Jewish, have choice in matters of religion and are presented with better professional opportunities. Lyons feels that Ethiopians, in this land that has both saved and rejected them, are “undergoing a tug of war internally,” as they try to reconcile their worlds of old and new.