Thankful but Not Happy
by Avi T., Associate Pastor, Tents of Mercy Network

"He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11).

Imagine a family reunion after 2000 years. The thrilling anticipation of bonding. Connecting all the dots of your origin and history. Healing, strengthening, and enriching your born identity. You had always heard about them, but now you will actually see your relatives. You will find a strong resemblance, and a common thread that runs through your histories. To witness such an encounter with your past is truly a miracle.

Israel is the home of such a miracle - the biggest family reunion ever. Jews are returning from exile worldwide. It is a wonderful thing.

Yet despite the excitement, the return of exiles to the Land has also been a source of social, cultural, and racial clashes. Such has been the weaving of Ethiopian Jewry back into the fabric of Israeli Society.

Two generations protesting
The return of the last remaining community of Israel from the soil of Africa started in the late 1970s and still continues today. The Jews of Ethiopia have realized their long-awaited dream of coming to the Promised Land according to the promises of God through the mouth of great prophets. Today they number around 140,000 in Israel. But the Ethio-Israeli community has not seen the promises fully come to pass. While thankful to be with fellow Israelis they are not happy with the discrimination and racism that they have experienced in many pockets of society.

Discrimination and lack of acceptance toward their very own Jewish Ethiopian brothers has caused great offence to the story of God's redemption of Israel. This condition of inequality has crept into Israeli society at large, even affecting government institutions. This discrimination was largely hidden for the last 30 years, with only minor and ineffective demonstrations and appeals. Due to the meek and humble character of the Ethio-Israeli community, empty promises from prime ministers and leaders were taken at face value. But now that has changed.

Protest sign: Our hope is lost.
We are not free in our own land.
Volcanic anger and frustration erupted into violent demonstrations in early May when a video went viral. The video showed an innocent Ethio-Israeli IDF soldier in uniform, being brutally beaten by police for no specific reason. The video did not leave any room for doubt about discrimination targeted at Ethio-Israelis. Apparently this is not an isolated event but something many young Israeli Ethiopians have experienced at the hands of police. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that 40% of juvenile jail inmates in Israel are young Ethio-Israelis.

What makes this wave of demonstrations different is that it is coming from the younger generation - many of whom were born in Israel. The racism, discrimination, and derogatory remarks towards the Ethiopians have continued into the next generation - a generation that will not allow themselves to be gullibly reassured by lip service of politicians.

The discrimination is not just from the police. It is present in numerous places including some schools who refuse to receive Ethiopian pupils, some employers who discriminate and some neighborhoods which have not allowed Ethiopians to buy or rent homes.

Protest blocking main artery
highway of Tel Aviv
The police chief has fired the officers in the video, and he also called to open all the files of incarcerated Ethiopian juveniles. This is a step toward righting the wrongs, but the journey towards equality is going to be long.

Looking back at the history of our nation, there was a time such as this. The whole camp of Israel was stopped in their journey towards the Promised Land when: "Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married ... So the anger of the LORD was aroused against them, and He departed" (Numbers 12:9). God saw this arrogance of heart and He departed from their midst. They could not move forward. God feels strongly about discrimination and racism.

The family reunion born in the heart of God was not meant to end in debasing one another. Quite the opposite, it is Israel's irrevocable calling to be a brotherhood nation that is diverse but unified in the loving heart of the Father. Maybe this can only happen fully when all Israel receives the One who "came to His own ..."

"That they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring My offering" (Zephaniah 3:9-10).

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