07 September 2009

Ethiopia: Beta Israel conference in Gondar, Nov. 5

The history of Ethiopian Jews is fascinating. Their connection to genealogy is also unique as most can recite their ancestors for 10 generations or more.

The Society for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry (SOSTEJE) is sponsoring an international conference from Thursday, November 5 through Sunday, November 8, in Gondar, Ethiopia.

The conference title is "Beta Israel in Gondar: A Conference in situ." The conference language is English. It is a post-event conference to the 17th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, which will run Monday, November 2 through Thursday, November 5, at the Institute for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Abeba.

The Beta Israel have lived in Gondar Province and surrounding areas, such as the Simien, for centuries. Known as "Falashas" by outsiders, they engaged in specific occupations, as smiths and landless agriculturalists. The vast majority of the Beta Israel left Gondar in the 1980s and 1990s and lives in the State of Israel. Today, potential Ethiopian Israelis await emigration in a compound in Gondar.

This SOSTEJE conference will take participants back to roots to explore, through academic lectures and tours, the origins and way of life of the Beta Israel throughout the Portuguese period, during the heyday of missionary activity in the area, and in the period prior to emigration. It will also mark the exodus from the villages, which began exactly 25 years ago in "Operation Moses" (1984).
There is also a call for papers on the following topics:

- Beta Israel in Gondar, Gondar province and surrounding areas in times past
- Beta Israel as masons and painters in the Churches of Gondar
- Missionary activity among the Beta Israel
- Village life in Gondar and neighboring provinces
- Linguistic dialectics among the Beta Israel
- Relations between the Beta Israel of Gondar and their neighbors (e.g. the Qemant)
- Relations between the Beta Israel of Gondar and Beta Israel elsewhere (e.g. Tigray)
- The exodus and emigration of the Beta Israel of Gondar
- The identity of the Felesmura
- Operation Moses : 25 years later
- Beta Israel from Gondar in Israel: education, occupations and social integration
See more information at the link above. The deadline for proposal submission is September 15.

Tentative program:
- Thursday, Nov. 5: -fly Addis Abeba -> Gondar. Optional tour -> Ambober village.
- Thursday afternoon: Conference opening.
- Friday, Nov. 6: Conference.
- Saturday, Nov. 7: Visit to and prayers with Felesmura compound; discussions on Beta Israel.
- Saturday evening: Film by Daniel Friedman on Felesmura
- Sunday, Nov. 8: Conference ends at lunchtime.

Optional tours are being considered to Simien, Axum and Lalibella. Exact costs for tours are yet to be determined. International group prices for flights from Israel are being negotiated. For information on hotels and conference registration, see the website link above.

There's even a possibility for a volunteer needed to help coordinate the conference, with some substantial perks. Information on the website above.

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