Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel : living well and 'becoming deaf' in the homeland
This thesis is an ethnographic study of the Ethiopian Jews, or Beta Israel, a few years after their migration from rural Ethiopian to urban Israel. For the Beta Israel, the most significant issue is not, as is commonly assumed, adaptation to modern society, which to a large extent they have successfully achieved. But rather, their primary concerns revolve around the notion of "belonging" in their new homeland, and the loss of control they are experiencing over their lives and those of their children. The thesis analyses the experience of immigration from the Beta Israel's own perspective and focuses on: first, the factors which contribute to the Beta Israel's sense of well-being in Israel, second, the problems and difficulties they experience, and finally, the strategies they are developing to overcome these difficulties. This study elucidates the meanings of two apparently contradictory ascriptions which the Ethiopian Jewish immigrants make about themselves: "being well" and "becoming deaf'. Their sense of well-being is a result of their successful recreation of communal life, their expression of ethnic pride, and their appreciation of their new country. The expression "becoming deaf', which also means in Amharic "becoming ignorant", denotes the older generation's frustration at their inability to understand Hebrew, their feeling of being excluded by dominant society, and the loss of control they experience over most aspects of their lives. For the younger generation, the sense of exclusion revolves around issues of racial discrimination. Ethiopian Jewish immigrants resist those aspects of dominant society which they dislike: they reject normative Jewish practices and uphold Beta Israel religious and cultural ones, ideologically counteract disparaging Israeli attitudes, develop strong ethnic bonds and engage in overt forms of resistance. The difficulties of the present are also overcome by creating a perfect past and an ideal future: in what I have called 'the homeland postponed', all Jews will be united in a colour-blind world of material plenty and purity.