On Monday night in the Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, there was a launch party for the film Mekonen: Journey of an African Jew and a concert from the famous Ethiopian-Israeli hip-hop band, Cafe Shachor Chazak. The turn out was amazing: music was blasting and the crowd was going wild. Hundreds came out to this event; the first stop on the tour that will be taking place on other college campuses across the country over the next few weeks. But all fun and games aside, the significance of what the event stands must be addressed.
The film, which was produced by an organization called Jerusalem U, focuses on the story of Mekonen, an Ethiopian-Israeli who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, overcame obstacles, and eventually became a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces. Mekonen’s father was the leader of the community and was active in getting the members of the community to Israel. Twelve hours before Mekonen and his family were to leave Ethiopia for Israel, Mekonen’s father died. Mekonen’s family completed the immigration and adjusted to a drastically different life in Israel without their father. Mekonen goes on a journey back to Ethiopia to explore his roots before he returns to Israel to begin his new position as commander in the army. The film gives insight to minorities in Israel; a topic that is often misunderstood. The event clarified that there are many minorities in Israel and Israeli citizens have equal rights and equal responsibilities. Most Israeli citizens serve the country with some form of national service.
Just to be clear, Ethiopian-Israelis are one minority in Israel. Some other large minorities of Israeli citizens include Arabs, Druze, and Ba’hai. All of these minorities and more are represented in Israel’s government, the Knesset. As in most societies, there is a reality of elements of discrimination in society against minority groups, which is reflected in the film through rallies against police brutality in Israel. This reality is not being hidden away, but rather embraced. Perfection and complete justice and harmony among all citizens should not be expected of any country. The film shows how Mekonen takes pride in serving his country and the loyalty he feels toward it.
The history of the Ethiopian-Israelis is fascinating. The film touched upon how Israel carried out operations to airlift Jewish Ethiopians to Israel in mass waves. This is an extremely unique circumstance. What other country goes above and beyond to bring refugees into their country? I can’t think of one. The film doesn’t show how once the Ethiopians were brought into the country, on Israel’s expense, they are brought to absorption centers with resources to help them adapt to the new culture and language. Israel’s interaction with minorities should serve as an example to other countries.
The event continued with this sense of understanding and accrediting reality to Israeli culture, which can often be misunderstood. Before the concert, a young African American woman, Chloe Valdary, spoke to the audience about the similarities that Israel shares with the civil rights movement. Chloe expressed why she feels it is crucial to support Israel and the self determination of the Jewish people to their own state. Next came the concert. Cafe Shachor Chazak (which means “strong black coffee” in Hebrew) is a popular Ethiopian-Israeli band. Their performance brought some of Israel here, to campus, allowing us to get a taste of the culture through music. Israel is a country that is so far away and our exposure to it is limited to biased and often incorrect news outlets. Israel has so much more to offer and the Mekonen launch party and concert from Cafe Shachor Chazak made this foreign country a little more familiar.
Don’t worry, if you didn’t make it out to the event. There are always opportunities to learn about Israel and all the incredible things the country and its people have to offer.