Commercial Photographer Mark Tuschman is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From his personal project ‘Ethiopian Jews‘ . To see Mark’s body of work click on any photograph.
I visited Gondar Ethiopia in 2009 as I was very curious and interested in meeting the Ethiopian Jewish community, also known as the Beta Israel. I remember that I was first met with suspicion as their community was ostracized not only within Ethiopia, but they were not considered real Jews according to current Israeli laws. This was not always the case. The Ethiopian Beta Israel community in Israel today comprises more than 121,000 people. Most of this population are the descendants and the immigrants who came to Israel during major airlifts in 1984 and 1991.
Apparently the Israeli government does not consider the remaining Jewish community in Israel not Jewish enough to as the remaining Jews who want to emigrate to Israel had to overcome many insurmountable obstacles. Many of the remaining Ethiopian Jews had Jewish ancestors who converted to Christianity under pressure in the 19th century. They’re called the Falash Mura. They secretly practiced Judaism but were not allowed to emigrate with the other Ethiopian Jews until a hard-won political compromise a decade ago.
Even then, Israel didn’t approve them under the standard Law of Return but under a stricter religious law that says to be Jewish you need to prove an “unbroken” maternal Jewish line, a condition impossible to prove. In my mind, this was a discriminatory practice.
After talking with some of the elders in the community, through a translator of course, I was welcomed into their makeshift synagogue. Even though it was not the Sabbath, I was amazed to see a full congregation in fervent prayer. This group was far more religious and observant than I was and yet I would have no trouble being accepted in Israel, an irony that did not go unobserved. I felt very sad for these group of Jews as they were basically homeless as they experienced much discrimination in Ethiopia and only lived in the hope they one day they would be welcomed back to what they considered their homeland, the State of Israel.
Book By Mark Tuschman