Ethiopian Jewish Experience

Nov 13, 2015 - Nov 15, 2015

Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Falls Village, CT

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Presented by Isabella Freedman and the Ethiopian National Project in partnership with Beta Israel of North America and North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry


IMMERSE YOURSELF in Ethiopian Jewish Culture.

  • EXPERIENCE Ethiopian Jewish ritual
  • HEAR first-hand stories of the Ethiopian exodus
  • LEARN about the challenges facing Ethiopians in Israel
  • PARTICIPATE in Ethiopian Jewish dance, music, and craft activities
  • INTERACT with Ethiopian Israeli leaders
    and, of course,
  • EAT savory and healthy Ethiopian food

Roni AkaleRoni Akale is the Director-General of the Ethiopian National Project. Like thousands of others who endured the hardships of aliyah during Operation Moses, Dessie (Roni) Akale crossed Ethiopia by foot, walking 800 kilometers, then waited in Sudan until finally reaching Jerusalem in December 1983 at the age of 20. Roni obtained a BA in Social Work from Haifa University in 1990, and later went on to obtain an MA in Management and Public Policy Administration from Ben Gurion University. He holds additional training experience in the realms of educational leadership and non-profit management. Roni served as a Mental Health officer in the Israel Defense Forces. He played a critical role during Operation Solomon in May 1991, applying his personal and professional experience to assist the newcomers during this historical airlift in which 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel in 36 hours.

Roni brings rich professional experience to the role of Director-General. He was Manager of the nation-wide network ofmoked klitah service centers for immigrants on behalf of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, overseeing 21 cities and towns. He served as a family social worker in the municipality of Ashdod, and was the Director of Ethiopian Job Placement and Counseling with the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. In addition, he has carried out a wide variety of volunteer roles and has served in myriad leadership positions in his rich career of aiding the Ethiopian-Israeli community with his expertise, including being elected as Chairman of the Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Organizations in Israel between 2008 to 2010.

Roni, 48, concluded his post as the Chief Executive Officer of FIDEL Association for Education and Social Integration of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, which he has held since 2007, to assume the role of Director-General of ENP in April 2011. Roni lives in Ashdod, is married and father of four sons.



Beejhy Barhany fled her native Ethiopia by the time she was 7, walking with her family and 300 villagers to Sudan, where they started a new life. After a few years they left again, this time taking a Jeep through the jungles of Kenya, on to Uganda, France and finally to Israel, which even at that young age she remembers was “like fulfilling a dream after exile.” She quickly made the transition into Israeli life, and at 22 visited New York, where she also felt at home. But when she moved here, she searched for agencies to help Ethiopian Jews making the transition and found nothing. So in 2003 she founded Beta Israel of North America (BINA), a cultural organization for Ethiopian Jews. The cultural foundation helps Ethiopian Jews adjust to life in America and is dedicated to increasing knowledge and understanding of Ethiopian Jews through education workshops, a lecture series, and cultural activities.



Rabbi Hailu Paris was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on October 17, 1933. Eudora Paris adopted him when she migrated to Ethiopia with Rabbi Arnold Josiah Ford in 1935. When Mussolini and the fascists invaded Ethiopia in the prelude to World War II, many of the Israelites who were attempting to settle there were forced to return to the United States. On the return voyage in September of 1936, their ship was stop in Germany by Nazis looking for Jewish passengers. The Nazis did no suspect that the Black passengers with the Ethiopian child and a tightly wrapped bundle containing a Torah scroll were, in fact, Jews. Years later when Rabbi Paris related this story to me he joked,  This was one time when we didn’t complain when people assumed we could not be Jewish because of the color of our skin. Rabbi Paris was raised in Harlem, New York. Eudora Paris, who had been active in the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Garvey, became the leader of the Ethiopian World Federation. They worshipped at Commandment Keepers E.H. Congregation with Chief Rabbi W.A. Matthew (1892-1973). In 1947 he received his Bar Mitzvah by Rabbi Yirmeyahu Yisrael, the founder of Bnai Adath. After graduating from Dewitt Clinton High School, he enrolled at Yeshiva University where in 1963 he received a B.A. degree in Hebrew Literature and in 1970 a M. Ed in Jewish Studies. While working as a teacher for the New York City Board of Education, Rabbi Paris also served as the Spiritual Leader of Mount Horeb congregation in the Bronx, New York, and taught Talmud at the Israelite Academy, where he was one of the founding members and remains a professor emeritus. Although he never married, Rabbi Paris has always considered the Israelite community to be his family. As a child they raised him; as an adult he raised us up to love the study of Torah. He remains a vital link to Beta Israel and one of our most important goodwill ambassadors to the rest of the Jewish world. His prodigious knowledge was only surpassed by his compassion, his dedication, and his endless love.

Grace Rodnitzki, Director of International Relations at the Ethiopian National Project.  Grace works closely with field workers and professionals in Israel, delving into the critical day-to-day work that they carry out so that she can spread ENP’s story. As part of her position as ENP’s Director of International Relations, Grace shares the stories of Ethiopian-Israelis with individual donors, foundations, and federations across the globe.  Grace hails from King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. She has felt a calling to inform others about Israel’s uniqueness since her youth when she was involved in the regional and international levels of the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Grace received a B.A. in Politics from Brandeis University in 1990, and participated in a year-long study abroad at Oxford University. After her completing her undergraduate career, Grace became a Raoul Wallenberg Fellow at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she witnessed first hand the Ethiopian airlifts of Operation Solomon and the massive Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union. In 1992, Grace was invited to Australia to study and lecture as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, traveling the continent and speaking about her experiences in Israel. She returned to Israel in May of 1993, herself a new immigrant. Grace then worked for over seven years as an International Relations Associate at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Jerusalem. Grace Rodnitzki lives in Modi’in, Israel with her husband and their three children.


Qes Efraim Zion-LawiQes Efraim Zion-Lawi is the son of Qes Zion Lawi, of blessed memory, and the grandson of High Qes Lawi Zeno, of blessed memory. He was born in 1987 in the Israeli city of Carmiel. His parents made aliyah to Israel in 1984’s Operation Moses, after a long and arduous journey from Ethiopia through the Sudanese desert. Qes Efraim’s father served as the spiritual leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Carmiel and encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps. Accordingly, at age nine Qes Efraim began the studies necessary to be ordained a qes (i.e., priest or cohen). When he turned thirteen, his father officially designated him as his future successor. Qes Zion-Lawi passed away three years later, but Qes Efraim’s mother urged him to persist with his training, sending him to study with two prominent qessotch in Israel, Qes Malke Azaria and High Qes Govesa Tesfahun, who continued to teach him the prayers, benedictions, laws, and customs of the ancient Ethiopian Jewish tradition. After completing his military service, Qes Efraim married and was ordained as a qes. In addition to being heir to an illustrious line of qessotch, he is also the first ever Israeli-born qes. He now serves the Ethiopian Jewish community in Carmiel and its environs, teaching and facilitating the community’s traditional observances, including weddings, funerals, and memorials, as well as the ritual slaughter of animals.

Check out the schedule from last year’s Ethiopian Jewish Experience.


3:00 – 6:00 Arrival and Check In
6:00 – 6:45 Orientation, Opening Circle, Candle Lighting
David Weisberg & Beejhy Barhany
6:45 – 7:45 Ethiopian-Style Shabbat services with Rabbi Yefet Alemu
7:45 – 9:00 Ethiopian-style Kiddush & Shabbat Dinner
with explanations by Beejhy Barhany
9:00 – 10:00 My Story with Ethiopian Jewry
Barbara Ribakove Gordon
10:00 – 11:00 Exodus Stories Night Walk


8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
9:15 – 11:45 Ethiopian-Style Shabbat Services with Rabbi Yefet Alemu
12:00 – 1:30 Kiddush & Shabbat Lunch
1:45 – 3:00 Option 1: Author Dina Ellenbogen talks about her new memoir of 25 years working with Ethiopian Jewish families
1:45 – 3:00 Option 2: Family Relationships in the Ethiopian Jewish Community & How They Change in Israel with Grace Rodnitzki, Roni Akale, and Yefet Alemu
3:15-4:30 Option 1: Jewish Holidays & Tradition in Ethiopia with Beejhy Barhany
3:15-4:30 Option 2: Children’s activity:  Songs of Africa* with Jay Sand
*this session will include guitar playing
4:45 – 6:00 Main Program: Challenges of Ethiopian Absorption with Barbara Ribakove Gordon & Roni Akale
6:30 – 7:30 Seudah Shlishit
7:45 Havdallah with Rabbi Yefet Alamu
8:00 – 10:00 Ethiopian Dance Lessons & Dance Party with Helen Cineus
10:00 – 11:30 Film – “Caravan 841”


8:00 – 9:00 Breakfast
9:00 – 10:15 Explorations of Jewish Africa
Len Lyons, Sidney Davis, and Jay Sand
10:15 – 11:30 Traditional Coffee Ceremony led by Monica Ephrem & Amharic Lesson
Ethiopian Craft Market
11:30 – 12:00 Closing Circle
12:00 – 1:00 Lunch

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All-inclusive rates start at $340 per person. Click the “register now” button above for information, rates, and to register online. Online registration is for full credit card payments only. If you would like to pay in installments, pay by check, or apply approved financial aid, please call 860.824.5991 x0. Please review our lodging options and rates prior to calling.

You will receive a confirmation email once you have registered and made a payment online or by phone. If you do not receive the confirmation email within 24 hours of registering, please call us at 860.824.5991 x0.

If you’re new to Isabella Freedman, check out our Frequently Asked Questions for information about where we’re located, arrival and departure times, what to bring, etc.

We strive to make our programs affordable to everyone.

Click here for information about Financial Aid. »
Hazon is committed to making our Transformative Experiences financially accessible to as many people as possible. We believe that participation in these kinds of events are a core feature of a healthy and sustainable Jewish community in the 21st century. Please note that in our efforts to provide access to our events, we must balance our ability to meet individual requests with our ability to spread our resources among as many participants as possible. You can help support us in this endeavor by considering your request carefully. Financial aid is awarded on a rolling basis. Applications must be received at least two weeks prior to the start date of the event. Please submit your financial aid application prior to registering. If you have any questions, please contact the Registrar at or (860) 824-5991 x0.


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Camp Teva is for kids ages 5 – 12, and runs simultaneously with retreats geared toward adults. Camp Teva combines the best of Teva’s signature Jewish environmental education with all of the opportunities provided by the Adamah Farm to create a distinctive and creative way for kids to have a fun and safe Jewish outdoor, food, and environmental education experience while their parents are enjoying Hazon’s many retreats, conferences, holidays, and workshops at Isabella Freedman. A transformative experience for the whole family!

When you register kids during your event registration process, they are automatically enrolled in Camp Teva! All-inclusive kids’ rates include Camp Teva programming.

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