Danny Adeno Abebe is the author of the new book From Africa to Zion: The Shepherd Boy Who Became Israel's First Ethiopian-born Journalist. He was born in Ethiopia and came to Israel as a child. A correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, he is based in Jerusalem.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book?
A: I’ve been asking myself that as well. After I arrived in Israel in 1984, many years ago, my feeling is that Israeli society, the Jewish community, doesn’t have any clue about our background, our culture, our Judaism, our traditions.
It’s very important for me—I wrote the book for my kids’ generation. It’s my gift to them.
A lot of people know a little about us, our oppression, how we arrived in Israel in 1984 and 1991, in Operation Moses and Operation Solomon. But Israeli society has no clue. It’s an opportunity to recognize us, and what it means to be Jewish and Black. It’s a very complicated question.
The first time I saw a white man was in 1984, and I was 9 years old. I thought, he doesn’t look like me. After I arrived in Israel, a lot of people were asking me, How come you’re Black and Jewish?
I had a dream that my book would give an opportunity for Jewish people and the non-Jewish community to know a little about our background. We have a great history.
Q: In the book, you describe the experiences of your parents, yourself, and your children. Have things changed at all?
A: I’d like to say yes, but the real answer is no.
Ethiopian Jews had a long dream. We were in exile, and all of us wanted to come back home. We didn’t see ourselves as refugees, or as people looking for a job. We saw ourselves as someone coming back home.
I’m from a very naïve community. I was born in a village that’s so far away from any civilization. It’s like the first book of the Bible, Genesis—I was there. God created everything including my village, and didn’t come back to see what was going on in my village.
The huge gap between us and Israeli society is still continuing. We have to work very hard to be an equal part of Israeli society.
We were really surprised—before we arrived in Israel, we didn’t know about the state of Israel as a state, but as a very holy land. We dreamed of Jerusalem, not the state of Israel.
We didn’t know how Israeli society changed itself from the Diaspora. There are people from everywhere. We thought all Jewish people were Black like us. We were naïve people. Now, our skin color is a huge problem of my community. Racism is not just in America, it’s in Israel as well.
Q: You write that "being Ethiopian in Israel is a full-time job." Can you say more about that?
A: I have a great job, to talk about myself every day. I’m here in Israel almost four decades, but for a lot of people on the street I’m still new, I’ve just arrived. I was a journalist, and everywhere I’m still a new immigrant to Israel. People say, Welcome, and I say, I’ve been here 37 years!
I’m Israeli, and I would like to see Israeli society and Jewish people of the Diaspora say, We don’t care about skin color.
My kids were all born in Israel. They don’t have any exile accent, their Hebrew is perfect. For them, for my kids--for Israeli society they’re still Ethiopian. It’s really hard.
My book is trying to describe how hard it is. My generation includes doctors, nurses, academics, but in the end, if the family is Ethiopian, they’re not 100 percent Israeli.
I love Israel. I’m a super-Zionist. I’ll continue to have my kids grow up here.
I prefer to be who I am—my amazing culture, and Israeli. We can be both. We just arrived 30-something, 40 years ago, not a long time, but we forgot our culture. My dream is to continue to be who I am with my past, and continue to be Israeli.
Q: Are you working on another book?
A: Yes! I looked at a lot of the protocols for the Israeli government before Operation Moses when we arrived. I couldn’t believe what many former Israeli ministers were thinking about us. It’s very funny and very, very sad. I cried. I was really shocked.
A few days ago, I started to read a specific protocol about Operation Moses. I was thinking about my father, who walked with us 800 km. to get to Jerusalem. He had a dream to take his kids to Jerusalem. It was paradise, freedom. My father to me is like Moses. He led us to freedom.
I was very sad to see how the Israeli government thought about us. They didn’t see us as Jewish, they focused on skin color.
In the end, telling the kids that we are here, that is our victory.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb