Bal Ej: The Hidden Jews Of Ethiopia
a film by Irene Orleansky
Though it has been formally announced that with the last emigration of Falash Mura, there are no more Jews left in Ethiopia, there are still a number Jews living in Addis Ababa and the North Shewa region of Ethiopia, most of whom practice pre-Talmudic form of Judaism secretly. They split from the Beta Israel who settled in Northern regions of Ethiopia since Biblical times and even had the only independent Jewish Kingdom in the world. The migration of the Beta Israel from the area of Gondar to North Shewa was gradual with its pick in the 19th century. Beta Israel began their migration from North Shewa region to Kechene village in the northern part of today’s Adddis Ababa when Emperor Menelik II decided to move his palace from Ankober to Entoto and later to Addis Abbaba. Named Bal Ej, which means craftsmen, for for their skills in crafts, the community members played an important role in building the capital of Ethiopia Addis Ababa. Bal Ej of North Shewa and Kechene were forced to convert into Christianity. For centuries they have been persecuted by their Orthodox Christian neighbors who slandered them as buda or evil-eyed and hyena-people and have been deprived of the basic rights such as ownership of land, the reason for adopting crafts such as pottery, weaving and iron smithery. The stigma and discrimination persist till nowadays. Though they appeared Christians outwardly, inwardly they never abandoned Judaism and continued practicing Judaism secretly. Only recently, the youths of the community opened a synagogue in Kechene neighborhood of Addis Ababa where they hold their services openly; the rest of the synagogues are not visited by strangers and their location and practices are kept in strict secret. Because of persecutions, out of 40, only 15 cryptic synagogues have survived till today. In spite of the fears of murder and persecutions, Beta Israel of North Shewa keep faithful to their beliefs and ancient Hebrew traditions, some of which have been completely forgotten by the rest of the Jewish world.
In her movie “Bal Ej: the Hidden Jews of Ethiopia”, Irene is lifting the curtains of hundreds of years and reveal the history, traditions and music of this remarkable community to the world.