The Surge of Judaism across Africa, the African Diaspora and Asia

in the Twenty-first Century

International Conference, 10-11 November 2015

The Museum of Jewish History and Art

Paris, France


Tuesday, November 10

PHOTOS of the 2015 Conference

9.00 – 9.30 Registration

9.30 – 9.45 Introduction and welcome Paul Salmona, Director of the Museum of Jewish History and Art

9.45 Welcome from Dr. Edith Bruder, President of ISSAJ, and Professor Magdel LeRoux, Vice-President of ISSAJ

10.00 – 11.45 ROUND TABLE Lemba Religion. Ancient Judaism or evolving Lemba Tradition?

Chair Shalva Weil

Magdel LeRoux; Msizi Dube; Elias Monhla; Richard Newman; T.M. Sengani


11.45 – 12.15 Film The Lemba of Southern Africa, Magdel Le Roux


12.15 – 14.00 LUNCH

Paradigm Shifts in the Study of African Judaism

Chair William Miles

14.00 -14.30 Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, A New Paradigm for the Study of African Judaism

14.30 -15.00 Carol Conaway, A Critical Study of African-American Jewish Identity as Individually Constructed and Lived

15.00-15.30 Eva I Shaw-Taylor, No one teaches a child who God is.

15.30-16.00 Marla Brettschneider, What’s in a name?
16.00 -16.30 COFFEE BREAK

Diasporas – Session 1

Chair Emanuela Trevisan Semi

16.30-17.00 Daniel Lis, Three Varieties of Black Jewish Experience in Contemporary Accra, Ghana: The Wulff-House, The Asere-Stool House and the Assasse Pa

17.00 -17.30 Alma Gotlieb, Jewish Cape Verdeans? Perspectives on a Changing Diasporic Identity

17.30 – 18.00 Edith Bruder, The Igbo: ‘The Jews of Africa’ Jewish Crystallisation

18.00-18.30 Aurelien Gampiot, The Emergence of Black Jews within the Jewish diaspora in France


19.00 DINNER (optional)

Wednesday, November, 11

Diasporas – Session 2

Chair Magdel Le Roux

9.30 -10.00 William Miles, Concentric Circles of Historicized Jewish Identity in Africa

10.00 -10.30 Janice Levi, Shedding the Cloak of Invisbility: the (Re)Emergence of Jewish West Africa

10.00 -10.30 Ismael, Gedeon, Peyniel Yayir Kohen: A Jewish family from the Ivory Coast

10.30 – 11.00 COFFEE BREAK

11.00 -11.30 Mesfin Assefa, The Bet Abraham Jewish Community of Ethiopia

11.30 12.00 Yitzchak Kerem, B’nai Ephraim from East and West: Telugu, Yoruba, I(g)bo, and Cherokee Identification with the Jewish People

12.00 -12.30 Menachem Kuchar, The Bassa of Cameroon

12.30-13.00 Jay Waronker, Sub-Saharan African Synagogues and Other Jewish Architecture

13.00 -14.30 LUNCH

Issues of Integration in Israel

Chair Marla Brettschneider

14.30 -15.00 Shalva Weil, Colour Gradations and Degradations among Ethiopian Jews in Israel

15.00 -15.30 Emanuela Trevisan Semi, Taamrat Emmanuel : The Albert Memmi of Ethiopia, between Colonized and Colonizers

15.30 -16 .00 Len Lyons, Ethiopian Israelis Take a Second Look at Ethiopia

16.00 -16.30 Yulia Egorova, Race, Religion and Transnational Migration: Israel and Bene Menashe

16.30 -17.00 Refreshments

17.00 -18.00 Film The Commandment Keepers, Marlaine Glicksman

18.15 -19.15 Film The Village of Peace, Ben Schuder et Niko Philipides

19.15 Closing Session

19.45 -21.00 Private Visit of the Museum (optional)



Prof Marla Brettschneider, University of New Hampshire, USA

Dr Edith Bruder, SOAS, London; CNRS, France

Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, African Hebrew Israelites, Israel

Dr Carol B. Conaway, University of New Hampshire, USA

Dr Msizi Dube, South Africa

Dr Yulia Egorova, Durham University, England

Dr Aurelien Gampiot, GSRL-CNRS, France

Marlaine Glicksman, filmmaker, journalist and photographer, USA

Prof Alma Gottlieb, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

Prof Yitzchak Kerem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Menachem Kushar, Israel

Prof Magdel Le Roux, University of South Africa

Janice R. Levi, PhD Student, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Len Lyons, Independent Researcher and Writer, USA

Mesfin Assefa, Beta Avraham, Ethiopia

Elias Monhla, South Africa

Prof William Miles, Northeastern University, Boston, USA

Rabbi Richard Newman, MA, University of South Africa

Prof T.M. Sengani, University of South Africa

Dr Eva Shaw-Taylor, Global Institute for Diasporan & African Culture,USA

Ben Schuder, filmaker, USA

Prof Emanuela Trevisan Semi, University of Venice, Italy

Prof Jay Waronker, Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, USA

Dr Shalva Weil, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel



Prof Magdel le Roux

University of South Africa (Unisa)

The African ‘Ark of Covenant’ – an evolving Lemba tradition?

The recent much publicised information on the ‘discovery’ of the Ark of the Covenant in Zimbabwe put the Lemba of Southern Africa again in the spotlight (Time Magazine; CBN News; Israel news). The Lemba in Southern Africa are a very specific group with unique traditions regarding Israelite origins. Their oral traditions also contain significant information on the leading role which their priestly family played on their journey from the North into the Arabian Peninsula and eventually to Africa. They blazed their trail with the Vhazendzhi (Venda) southwards into Africa as traders, with the ngoma lungundu (‘the drum which thunders’) playing a very similar role to that of the Ark of the Covenant. This study shows how the Lemba have constructed their own set of beliefs around Biblical myths in the context of marginalisation among other African communities. It also shows how missionaries, researchers and other observers have drawn parallels between the early Israelite and African religions. The reciprocity between orality and inscripturation of traditions yields valuable information regarding the possible development of traditions and historiography in ancient Israel.


Msizi Dube, South Africa

The Scattered Tribe of Israel in Southern Africa

Constructing a Local Theology of the African Jews


The main objective of this article is to contract a local Jewish African theology of the Lemba tribe of Southern Africa that is shape by context their rituals, system of believe, their liminal situation and their yearly September festival. I will also explore how they have used rituals as components of giving meaning to life away from home. This will enable us to grapple with the issue of language, belief systems, identity and rituals used as an attempt to give meaning to people who are in a liminal situation and in diaspora. The religious and cultural experiences of the Lemba who are immigrants in Southern Africa will be of interesting factor in this article. Above all the article seeks to deal with the questions that le Roux has raised in her book about the European religious influence in their culture and their tradition when they arrived in Southern Africa.


Elias Monhla, South Africa

What lessons can be learned from the Lemba in an attempt to Africanize the URCSA ?

In a context where there is much talk about the need to Africanize the Church in South Africa, the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) finds herself at the crossroads. Such a quagmire calls that the leadership of this church looks elsewhere in their attempts at making the Africanness of this church tangible. This paper will argue that a possible solution to the identified challenge could be sought from the Lemba, the so-called ‘Black Jews of Southern Africa’. The Lemba is a historic religious tradition that combines issues of healing, trade, marriage and therapy. Some of the Lemba originate from Kinshasa and Brazzaville and Congo. The Lemba controlled trade of ivory and copper. Janzen states that in the mid-18th century slaves from the inland who has a social order were shipped in from the ports of Loango, Cabinda and Malembe. Soon after there was conflict of interest between trade and social order, he asserts “conflict of interest between the trade and social order may explain why Lemba—a word meaning “to calm” (lembikisa)—took the form of a therapeutic association, a “drum of affliction” (ngoma or nkonko)”. Lemba’s illness is possession by Lemba’s ancestors, common in drum as mode of affliction on the head, heart, abdomen and sides, all the important part of a person. This includes breathing, witchcraft and recovery from deadly disease.


Rabbi Richard Newman, MA, DipEd, ATI, University of South Africa

For the past four years under the guidance of Prof M le Roux of the University of South Africa, Pretoria, I have been researching, as a doctoral thesis, the place of the Shofar—Ram’s horn in the ritual of the Hebrew people.The areas covered have included, inter alia, the semantic origins of the words shofar,t’ruah and hatsotsrah; pre-Israelite references; post biblical sources and writings of the Dead Sea sects; the shofar in modern liturgy; the shofar in art throughout the ages and the Lemba people and the shofar.In my research of Lemba customs I have found additional information as to their possible origins, the reasons for their long trek from the Babylonian exile and their breakaway from the main body of returning exiles, making their way across the Arabian peninsula, into the Yemen and down Africa. Were they a homogenous band of people or were they strengthened by other Semitic groups? Were there additional groups during those turbulent times, was dissent more widespread, was there greater division, even leading to persecution? I have reason to believe that there was. Of the researchers, both Lembas and from without their people, the main contributor has been Prof M le Roux who has raised many points of interest. Some of these I have added to, while raising other issues of this group of African Jews here in the Southern part of the continent.


Dr T.M. Sengani, University of South Africa


The issue of origin and identity has been very topical amongst Africans as it has been to peoples of the world. Whereas some rely on recorded history, other groups challenge it, claiming that it is distorted. In Africa many groups have relied on oral transmissions of traditions, but they too are seen as being subjective and exaggerated. However, controversies still exist among scholars
on the origin of Vhalemba/Vhashavhi or Basena found in South Africa, Zimbabwe and other parts of Africa. Whereas some scholars associate them with the Jews, there are others who allege that they are of Arab origin with some African scholars linking them with Africa. They themselves claim that they are of Jewish blood. This paper intends to use Critical discourse analysis and the travel theory to look into certain naming practices of children among Vhalemba in South Africa which shows traces or elements of travelling across Africa. It also focuses on their clan names which indicate some links with both Jewish and Arab backgrounds and a line in their praises which points to Sena.


Ahmadiel Ben Yehuda, African Hebrew Israelites, Israel

A New Paradigm for the Study of African Judaism

The social sciences were deeply influenced by social Darwinism (a doctrine of white supremacy). An accompanying presumption, cum assumption, was that the ancient Israelites were white. Essentially unchallenged for more than a century, this flawed worldview has been virtually enshrined in Western social thought. Anthropologists and ethnographers engaged in the investigation of African Judean, Israelite or Hebrew communities and their intersections, interactions and influences, have, by and large, faithfully tracked a course set by the Eurocentric academy. Neither the exigencies of “political correctness” or compelling DNA studies have resulted in a change of course. The fundamentally Eurocentric definition of “normative” Judaism rules the day. From whence African identifications with Israel? Standard explanations for cultural transmission include “Judaization,” “diffusion” and even ploys to gain access to the modern world via immigration… anything but an actual, legitimate historical connection. Some at center stage of the “surge” of African Hebraic identity take serious offense to their claims being relegated to the fringes of acceptance, more often dismissed altogether. What will it take to overcome this dearly-held, if deeply-flawed approach? A wide range of evidential information and anecdotal accounts will be offered that challenges the existing paradigm, with a caveat: much more is at stake than the integrity of individual scholars in the field.


Dr Carol B.Conaway, University of New Hampshire, USA

A Critical Study of African-American Jewish Identity as Individually Constructed and Lived

The seminal work by Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (1983; 1991; 2006), claimed modern national identities are socially constructed. Anderson’s theories on individual and collective nation identities are closely aligned with those classified as “historicist” and “modernist” currents of thought on nationalism. For many years, Anderson and others in the historicist tradition guided my explanation of myself as an African-American member of the world-wide Jewish community. I justified my choice to be a Jew and the subsequent formal conversion ceremony to “make it official” was really just a pro-forma stamp of approval on the way I had been defining myself since I was fourteen years old. However, I soon discovered that my thoughts on acceptance and the reactions of the white Jewish community to my membership were radically different than mine. Years later, I have had new insights on my self-imposed Jewish identity as well as other identities I have chosen for myself by understanding these phenomena in terms of American concepts of race/class/gender/sexual orientation, and ethnic biases that reflect the efforts of many European American Jews to shun and refuse or accept multicultural Jews. I propose to write a paper on my current personal memoir, now in progress, a book on my Jewish and other identities as part of an integrated whole.


Eva I Shaw-Taylor, Global Institute for Diasporan & African Culture (GLIDAC), USA


The advent of Religious Freedom in the 1960s to the present made it possible for the United States to create the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USIRF) in 1998. This Commission was established as a “watchdog” for different countries that restrict freedom of Religion. As President Obama stated in 2009 in Cairo, ‘Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together’. USIRF created the “freedom” that many religious groups needed to be able to practice their religion in the open. It gave these groups the ability to immigrate to different parts of the world to live in peace without fear of persecution. I believe that some of these groups have been living this way for hundreds of years as opposed to an advent of reshaping of modern Jewish identities. Due to Globalization and modernization, these groups can now easily be identified. Using their histories, I will try to show that some of the reasons for the wish to return to long-forgotten Jewish roots could be to further their religious education; and to obtain formal conversion has more to do with economic stability and gaining recognition than the shaping or reshaping of modern Jewish identities.


Prof. Marla Brettschneider, University of New Hampshire, USA

What’s in a name?

This paper will utilize feminist critique to explore issues of the language used by northern academics and Jewish organizations when referring to the communities involved in the Jewish phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa. The work will explore the comparative situation of men and women in these communities in the context of the national situations in the region. Once I have established a gendered a hierarchical relationship within the communities in national and regional context, I will demonstrate that there is a gendered dynamic in the nomenclature used by northern scholars and practitioners in the study of, and work in, the region. I will utilize an analysis of bell hooks work on feminist theory from margin to center to explore language commonly used by northerners regarding the Jewish and Jewishly related communities in sub-Saharan Africa, such as: fringe, marginal, peripheral, minor, far – flung. Other words often used are: isolated, emerging, and exotic. With this work I seek to open a dialogue between northern scholars and practitioners as well as those involved in the Jewish/Jewishly related communities in sub-Saharan Africa. I seek to explore new understandings of place, space and situation. In particular I see to explore that our dynamics manifest in the nomenclature and possibly surpass current north-south global hierarchies


Prof Alma Gottlieb, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA

In the contemporary era, many Cape Verdeans both on and off the islands are (re)discovering the Jewish history of their nation, their individual families, or both. This (re)discovery takes many forms. Some are researching the genetic foundations of their acestry by ordering readily available DNA tests. Others are using social media as well as online and other scholarly resources to research their Jewish history. Still others are undergoing full-scale conversion to the religion of their Jewish ancestors. At the micro level of the individual, what might we learn about diverse contemporary Cabo Verdeans’ complex and expanding understandings of self as we explore their process of (re)discovering new components of family history and identity? At the macro levels of regional and theoretical engagement, what might we learn about Cabo Verde once we acknowledge the deeply Jewish history of this island nation? What might this singular Sephardic historical engagement instruct us about other Sephardic experiences elsewhere in Africa? And at the broadest level, what might this Sephardic case study teach us about historical and ethnographic research methods when it comes to regional and disciplinary boundaries?


Dr Edith Bruder, SOAS, England;- CNRS, France

The Igbo: ‘The Jews of Africa’

Jewish Crystallisation

In present day Nigeria, there are perhaps up to 30,000 Igbo who claim a Jewish ancestry or identity and the growth in this number is significant. Going beyond the mere age-old fascination with the Lost Tribes of Israel, from the colonial period, the Igbo integrated strongly connoted Jewish characteristics that became constitutive in their ethnic identity and differentiated them from other groups. The fact that many Igbo were traders and that Igbo lived scattered in diasporas all over Nigeria and West Africa, successfully organizing ethnic networks thereby resembling the Jewish Diaspora experience, were undoubtedly crucial to Igbo identification with the Jews and how they were perceived by other groups. The Igbo ethnic identity naturally became politicised during the 1950’s as the Hebrew-Jewish affiliation was being used as a symbolic focus of Igboness and often it formed part of the foundation of a cultural and political nationalism. In this paper, I will briefly describe the motives and mechanisms behind the creation of highly polarised Jewish communities in Nigeria, starting with the colonial period and going up to the traumatic experience of the Biafran War. I will be focusing specifically on the interaction between the social context and the political history of the period and its influence on the Igbo self-identification with the Jews.


Aurélien MOKOKO GAMPIOT, Ph.D. GSRL-CNRS, Paris, France

The Emergence of Black Jews within the Jewish diaspora in France


The current « rebirth » of Judaism is indicative of a growing diversity of Jewish experiences and interactions. While grappling with expressions of antisemitism in several segments of French society, including Black milieus, the modern Jewish diaspora in France is also composed of Africans, West Indians, African Americans and biracials, whether converts or native Jews, whose need for recognition is increasingly making itself felt. These believers have widely different backgrounds, but share a common need for identity reconstruction. This paper aims to discuss the Africana minority within the broader French Jewish community, taking into account its relation to the majority. What is the positioning of Black Jews as French citizens or residents? How do they perceive themselves through the gaze of their fellow White Jews? What is their place within the global Jewish world? Such are the questions this paper will try to address, building on fieldwork in France.


Prof. William F.S. Miles, Northeastern University, Boston

Concentric Circles of Historicized Jewish Identity in Africa


The emergence of new Jewish communities in Africa begs an old question: “Who is a Jew?” This question takes on particular resonance where some segments of long-established African ethnic groups invoke descendance from ancient Israelite tribes. Some self-identifying Jewish communities in Africa employ the narrative of Hebrew lineage to buttress a claim of Jewishness that they otherwise advance by scriptural study and religious observance. For other “members of the tribe,” the mere belief in such historicity suffices to assume the mantle of Jewishness, regardless of current religious affiliation and practice. Yet others accept the “fact” of Israelite ancestry without it assuming any particular salience in their general patterns of behavior or system of beliefs. This paper proposes a conceptualization of these differential degrees of historicized Jewish identity in Africa in terms of three concentric circles: core(characterized by “orthopraxis”), middle (“Hebraic eclecticism”), and outer ring (“vague Israeliteism). Applications of the concentric circle model will be invoked from throughout “Jewish Black Africa,” with particular focus on Jewish/Israelite identities in Nigeria. Some scholarly consensus regarding the legitimacy of wide-ranging claims to Jewish identity in Black Africa, the paper concludes, is critical to the integrity of the discipline.


Janice R. Levi, PhD Student, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Shedding the Cloak of Invisibility: the (Re) Emergence of Jewish West Africa


The aim of this paper is to provide a historiographical approach to Jewish West Africa by analyzing the impact of anti-Semitism in the Mediterranean world and the legacy of imposed invisibility it fostered. Primarily centering on the oral narrative of the Ghanaian Jewish community, the House of Israel (Sefwi Wiawso, Ghana), this paper will thread the historical presence of Jews from the era of the Iberian expulsion and transSaharan commerce to the (re)emergence of present day communities. The narratives of this community along with the history of Jewish presence in the region indicate a legacy of imposed invisibility due to forced conversions and migration, volatility of dhimmi status, colonial impacts, and presently the questioning of an authentic Jewish identity. Silences and whispered voices in the narrative attest to the secrecy and invisibility of Jewish identity, making evident the significance of trans-temporal oral histories in the field of Jewish Africa where there is a lack of written documents. This invisibility is now seemingly contributing to the historical gaps and visibility of these communities in scholarship and as ‘legitimate’ Jews within the boundaries of normative Judaism. This paper seeks to make visible the invisible by emphasizing the importance of Africanist methodologies in the field of Jewish history and the significance of investigating ‘invisible’ identities and silences in oral narratives to construct a historiography of Jewish Africa.


Mesfin Assefa, Beta Avraham, Ethiopia

The Bet Abraham Jewish Community in Ethiopia

I will examine and comment the traditions of the Ethiopian Bet Abraham Jewish Community in Ethiopia. I am a Zionist Activist and Founder of Ethiopian North Shewa Zionist Organization and Lovers of Zion Association, a Judaic faith practicing organization which recently established two new synagogue in the Kechene village close to Addis Ababa.

Prof. Yitzchak Kerem, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and The Heritage House for Sephardic and Eastern Jewish Communities, Israel

“B’nai Ephraim from East and West: Telugu, Yoruba, I(g)bo, and Cherokee Identification with the Jewish People’

There are no less than three peoples in India, Nigeria, and the United States who identify as descendants as lost Jewish groups from the Tribe of Ephraim. In the last decades the Telugu Jewish community of Andhra Pradesh, India, the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, and the Cherokee native American Indians of Oklahoma have all claimed their Israelite roots, have visited Israel, some have converted to rabbinic Judaism, and they have written articles and books about their faith, lineage, and heritage. The Telugu have practiced Judaism since the 1980s and base their association as descendants of Ephraim as passed down orally throughout the generations.

The Bnai Ephraim live amongst the Yorubas rather than the Igbo people in some 20 villages in the Ondo district of southwestern Nigeria. The Igbo, with a synagogue in Lagos, are separate and claim descent from Gad, Zevulun, and Menashe. The Bnai Ephraim in Yoruba kept portions of the Torah in their sanctuaries as opposed to the Igbo who practiced an Ancient Hebraic way of life without Torah. The Bnai Ephraim in Yoruba left Morocco in the 16 th century and speak a mixture of Moroccan Arabic with Yoruba and some remnants of Aramaic. Freeing themselves from hundreds of years of Christian missionizing, the Jubos in Abuja, also Igbos, formed the Tikvat Israel community; as well as the Gihon congregation; both read from Torah scrolls.

The Cherokee descents of Ephraim have a vast history of wandering through Africa under the Phoenicians, being taken into slavery in Nigeria as Igbos and sent to the United States, mixing in with Indian tribes such as the Aztecs and Mayas, and finally identified and mixed in with the black Creek and Cherokee Indian tribes in Oklahoma; although they roamed throughout via New York, Florida, and Louisiana. They also had contact with the Melungeons of Tennessee, who have Spanish crypto-Jewish roots. Their language has roots from Olmec and their Ten Commandments and Torah are written in Paleo-Hebrew. They have numerous stones which will be shown in the lecture depicting their history and faith. Since the Amariel family has revealed its history in 2006, historians and linguists have learned a lot of their origin, culture, and faith. Their Cherokee DNA reveals a mixed Iberian and American Indian ancestry.


Menachem Kuchar, Israel

An Examination of the Claims of the Bassa in Cameroon to Israelite Descent

Today the Bassa live in sub-tribal groups in villages along the main highway from Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, to Douala, the main port. Their rich, ritually based lifestyle, varies markedly from that of their neighbours. Unfortunately since independence, most Bassa have been encouraged to convert to Christianity, thus quickly losing their connection to ancient traditions.The Bassa claim they were members of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt. When Moses took his people to freedom not everyone left with him, many, for economic or personal reasons, content to remain. When news of Pharaoh’s dramatic defeat by the Israelites at the Red Sea reached back to the Egyptian heartland, those remaining feared Pharaoh would launch anti-semitic attacks against them. To escape this persecution, they too left Egypt, first following the Nile southward, arriving eventually in today’s Cameroon.I examine Bassa customs, traditions and practice, including their sabbath, dietary laws, family purity, life cycle, calendar and festivals, to verify their claim. I find many parallels between their traditions and that practiced by Jews over the course of Jewish history: the Judges, two Temples and the long diaspora. I refer to textual sources including bible, midrash, talmud and semantics, finding parallels between Judaism/Israelitism and Bassa


Prof. Jay Waronker, Kennesaw State University in Atlanta, USA

Sub-Saharan African Synagogues and Other Jewish Architecture

My documentation of sub-Saharan Jewish architecture – synagogues with cemetery chapels and social halls – reveals how current-day Jewish communities throughout the region, some always small, others once relatively large but today much diminished, and even more in marked contrast becoming sizable as per various black African enclaves, represent significant “other” examples of the Jewish Diaspora. Too many of these clusters of Jews are at present uncounted, under-counted, or relegated to the sidelines. Yet the reality is that Jews arrived in sub-Saharan Africa at a range of times, organized themselves in an assortment of locations, and they in many instances led or continue to lead productive lives. To those living in these places and practicing their faith, being Jewish came to be natural and commonplace. To showcase the sub-Saharan African Jewish Diaspora, a portfolio of one hundred fifteen watercolor renderings of Jewish architecture complemented by a description, analysis, and history was completed to establish a greater awareness of groups of Jews in lesser-known and understudied places who formed communities and, for religious and communal needs, built synagogues and other architecture. Even though the original creators and patrons of these buildings were temporal, examples of the built form remains as evidence of the way things once were. This is particularly the case with contracted white European and Middle Eastern Jewish communities. Or, in instances of newly established and awakened black Jewish communities in sub-Saharan Africa, the architecture newly built or in the planning stages is a reflection of a changing demographic. What is revealed is that Judaism is becoming increasingly less Western and distinctly more multi-racial and diverse.


Dr. Shalva Weil, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel

Colour Gradations and degradations among Ethiopian Jews in Israel

On May 3, 2015, Ethiopian Jews rallied in Tel Aviv in a violent demonstration protesting police brutality and racism in Israel. This paper examines whether colour discrimination exists in Israel against the backdrop of conceptions of colour in Ethiopia. It explores changing narratives from Africa to Israel vis-a-vis colour and examines new realities as racial discrimination in Israel, perceived or real, forces Ethiopian Jews to define themselves as “black”, a rhetoric foreign to their indigenous colour gradation system. On the Israeli side, the narrative of the ingathering of a Jewish “tribe” has been replaced by the trials and tribulations of a “black” ethnic group. The Ethiopian Jews are compared, and some may model themselves, on blacks in the United States, who demonstrated against racism in Baltimore only a week before the Ethiopian Jewish protests began. The question remains whether degradations in Israel on the basis of colour are commonplace in Israel. Finally, the paper discusses the impact of this claim for other Judaizing groups in Africa and elsewhere, who may model themselves on the case of the Ethiopian Jews, while claiming Israelite origins and attempting to affiliate with the Jewish people.


Prof. Emanuela Trevisan Semi, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice

Taamrat Emmanuel : the Albert Memmi of Ethiopia, between colonized and colonizers

Reading Taamrat’s letters is like reading a new version of the ambivalence noted by Albert Memmi of Jews trapped between colonizers and colonized. In this case, the picture is further complicated because we are looking at two figures, the European Jew and the native Jew in the context of Ethiopia, which was colonized by Italy and by Protestant missionaries, but also by a “Jewish counter-mission,” as Jacques Faitlovitch’s endeavor was defined. Albert Memmi explained how he himself was doubly part of the social relationship that chained the colonizer to the colonized, a Tunisian colonized by the French, and a Tunisian Jew who was viewed as different by the colonists and who, in turn, tried to differentiate himself from Tunisian Muslims, who were considered slightly lower on the colonizers’ social ladder: “If I was undeniably a native, as one used to say, as close as possible to a Muslim, I passionately tried to identify myself as French. In the great fervor that I had for the West, which seemed to me to be the paragon of all civilization and all true culture, at first I happily turned my back on the East, choosing irrevocably the French language, dressing in Italian garb and delightedly adopting even the tics of the Europeas”. Taamrat resembled Memmi in that he was both an “indigenous Falasha” and an “Italian Jew,” both colonized and colonizer, which left him floating in a state of existential ambiguity.


Len Lyons, Independant researcher and writer

Building Bridges: Ethiopian Israelis Take a Second Look at Ethiopia

Only a few decades ago, the Ethiopian Jews were an underclass in Ethiopia, an environment they perceived to be fraught with persecution and danger. Their religious tradition embodied a longing for the biblical Jerusalem that evolved in the late-20th century into a desire to immigrate to the modern Jewish State. But once in Israel, they felt undervalued and discriminated against, as has been highlighted by the recent mass protests in Israel in April and May. After several decades, there is significant evidence,that the ideational “Ethiopia” – its meaning and image – has undergone a transformation in the minds of Ethiopian Israelis. For example, some Ethiopian Israelis, who have succeeded in their formal education, are in a unique position to take advantage of business opportunities, e.g., representing Israeli companies, participating in import / export trade, and starting businesses there. (The Ethiopian government has encouraged this by creating advantageous visas for Ethiopian Israelis who want to work and buy property there.**) Young adult Ethiopian Israelis are now traveling to “the old country” as a way to connect with their roots. Ethiopia has been the destination for celebratory trips after a bar mitzvah. Could Ethiopian Israelis become a new “people bridge,” facilitating relations between the two countries? Through interviews with Ethiopian Israelis of different social strata and text-based research, the proposed paper examines the how the ideational “Ethiopia” (its image and meaning) has evolved during the tenure of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Some of the questions that will arise in this study are: what opportunities does it present? What has caused the change in their idea of Ethiopia? How does the idea of “Ethiopia” interact with their idea of “Israel”? Do they see themselves as Ethiopians primarily or as Israelis primarily? After these nearly 40 years into the Ethiopian Jewish aliyah, do they feel at home in their new home?* As explained to Len Lyons by the current Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel, Helawe Yosef Mengistu.


Dr Yulia Egorova, Durham University, England

Race, Religion and Transnational Migration: Israel and Bene Menashe

The Bene Menashe stem from a number of Christian groups of the Indo-Burmese borderland, some of whom back in the 1950s declared their descent from the Lost Tribes of Israel. In 2005 the Bene Menashe became recognized as people of Israelite descent by the then Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and in 2011 were allowed by Israeli government to continue their migration through conversion. The paper will use the example of the Bene Menashe migration to cast analytical light on different ways in which race and religion co-constitute each other in processes of transnational migration. To do so, it will discuss the forms of religiosity that the Bene Menashe have embraced in Israel.