Ethiopia's underground Jews see small gains in tolerance – Al Jazeera America

Category: Ethiopian News 4

A Jewish Ethiopian woman at the Beta Israel School in Addis Ababa in 2003.

Natalie Behring-Chisholm / Getty Images

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Tedros, his wife, his 7-year-old daughter and his parents cannot stop the accusations of witchcraft. Despite holding reconciliatory meetings with community members in their village in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, their names and the names of other Jews continue to surface during Christian exorcism ceremonies.

During these ceremonies, an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian priest pours water over the huddled, naked bodies of those believed to be possessed by budas, or evil spirits. They turn maniacal and cry out the name of the buda they believe possesses them.

“They will shout, ‘I am Tedros! I saw this person walking, and I sucked their blood!’” he said. “‘Now I am in this person!’” Once a person is named as a buda and condemned, threats of violence from the Christian majority begin trickling in. Tedros and other Ethiopian Jews spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal.

Like many Jews in Ethiopia, Tedros spent most of his youth involved with causes he didn’t believe in. He joined the Orthodox Christian Church when he was 5 to deflect suspicions of his Jewishness. Now 57, he still publicly pretends to be a Christian.

As a young man, he was forced to enlist in Ethiopia’s army to defend the brutal Derg government in the 1980s. Led by Mengistu Hailemariam, the regime created an atmosphere of terror by executing students, teachers and political activists believed to support opposition parties and strewing their bodies in public areas. Instead of fighting, Tedros ran away to Kenya, where he remained for 15 years before returning to Ethiopia at the start of the millennium.

The Derg was replaced by the iron-fisted Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in 1991, after years of fighting, and Ethiopia is now one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The national zeitgeist against Jews, however, has stayed much the same. Jews in North Wollo, the province where he and his family live, were persecuted when he left, he said, and they are still being persecuted there.

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