March 26, 2019

The 'Great Awakening' of Israeli Ethiopian Youth

“Everyone has a name given to them by their parents, or in my case, my sister. My name, Ortal, was given to me my older sister simply because she loved the name. it was however rather bland, and as a child, I recall envying the other Ethiopian children who had Amharic or Tigrinya names.

I distinctly remember the time in high school when I signed my name on an exam as Mebrahti, which means Light in Tigrinya. It sounded a lot nicer to my ears than Ortal.

Many Ethiopian-Israelis have a birth name as well as a “new” name given to them by the Interior Ministry, school administrators or kindergarten teachers. Names are a symbol of our aspiration to integrate into the local landscape, to be part of the social fabric.

The State of Israel urged its immigrants to change, and they indeed accepted upon themselves the local pattern of names, language, culture and worldview. They accepted but they were not accepted in return. The disparity between them and Israelis whose skin is white can be felt in almost every aspect of our lives: education, employment, police brutality and even Avera Mengistu, rotting in Hamas captivity in Gaza.

But lately there has been an awakening among the Ethiopian community in Israel, they are returning to the practices of their homeland: weddings that are performed by Kessoch (Ethiopian clerics), reclaiming traditional ethnic names and a general Ethiopian cultural awakening.”

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