Harlem’s Ethiopian Renaissance

For one recent day, Ethiopian Jewish culture was front and center in
Harlem, long considered the cultural hub of black America.

The hallways of the Faison Firehouse Theatre on 125th Street reverberated
Aug. 15 with the sound of young Ethiopian women speaking Hebrew with
Israeli accents, Rastafarians chatting with the melodic flow of the
Caribbean, and African-Americans with their New York tones, all learning
about Ethiopian Jewish culture.

The diverse crowd of approximately 100, old and young, came together for
the first NYC Sheba Film Festival, a project of the newly formed Beta
Israel of North America Cultural Foundation, an organization dedicated to
promoting the heritage and culture of Ethiopian Jewry.

“We are very happy with the outcome of the event,” said Beejhy Barhany, an
Ethiopian Jew who emigrated here from Israel six years go. When people
think of Ethiopia they see “hungry and starving people,” not the “rich
history” she is so proud of, she said. Barhany founded BINA to change that
perception. “Our community is small but expanding,” she said, estimating
that nearly 500 Ethiopians Jews live in New York. She added that she wants
to reach out to other black and Jewish groups throughout the city.

The all-day festival featured four films, in Hebrew and Amharic with
English subtitles, about Ethiopian life in Israel and their assimilation
into Israeli society. The festival also featured an art and photo exhibit
of Ethiopian life, and a lecture by Dr. Ephraim Isaac, president of the
Yemenite Jewish Federation of America and director of Semitic studies at
Princeton University.

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