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A petite beauty whose English accent is indistinguishable from that of the average American student on a Taglit-Birthright trip, Semu worked very hard to get to where she is today.Her parents made aliyah through Operation Moses in 1985, and she is the only child out of 10 children to be born in Israel.We did things that the average 10 year old is not concerned with,” says Biteolin.From an early age, the young women I interviewed faced the kind of stigma that is common for the over 116,000 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants and their children currently living in Israel, of whom about 32 percent are Israeli-born. It became clear very quickly — in school, at the market, everywhere,” says Semu.The Ethiopian Jews were rural villagers and their emigration to a modern, industrialized country such as Israel was deeply traumatic.For centuries, the Beta Israel, which means “From the House of Israel,” suffered relentless persecution as the Jewish minority in Ethiopia.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participates in a ceremony at Mount Herzl, for the Ethiopian Jews who died while making their way to Israel, at Mount Herzl in May 2012.As part of my research I interviewed three remarkable young women — Ester Semu, Shira Shato, and Leah Biteolin — in an attempt to uncover the Ethiopian community’s pride and pain.As a visiting student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, I saw a lot more female Ethiopian students than males.Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, made aliyah in 1985 and is the first Ethiopian woman to earn a doctorate in Israel.
Belaynesh Zevadia made aliyah as a teenager and at age 25, she became the first Ethiopian-Israeli diplomat in Israel’s Foreign Service.Like many other Ethiopian-Israeli families, members of Semu’s family died in Sudan during the journey to Israel.