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Ethiopian Jews observe Yom Kippur
By Jody Benjamin
At sundown on Sunday October 1, dozens of Ethiopians scattered across the U.S. eastern sea board joined Jews worldwide in marking the annual fast day of repentance, Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. For twenty six hours, observant Jews abstain from eating food and ask for forgiveness. Fasting is considered an affliction of the soul that accords with the Biblical commandment for this day.

In New York, the tiny community of Ethiopian Jews, of Beta Israel as they call themselves, is currently so small that they do not currently have their own place of worship, but join services at other temples or else have quiet observances at family homes. I'm going to my aunt's house in Queens,'' said Tadela, a 36 year old, jewelry designer who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Israel, but now makes her home in Manhattan. When she first traveled to New York in 1993, she was following the path that many young Israelis take after completing a compulsory military service: she set out to see the world.

Her stay in New York was supposed to be a few months of hanging out, seeing sights and maybe earning a little money from her craft. That turned into four years. And when she did finally return to Israel, she said, I couldn't stop talking about New York. I knew I had to come back. I love Israel,'' she says. But for now here is good for me. There has been a small uptick in the numbers of Beta Israel meaning ˦oelig;House of Israel' -- to the United States in recent years. There are about 300 currently living in the city, said Bizu Rivka Mullu, director of Chassida/Shmella one of two groups sprung up recently in a bid to help organize the community.
There are not many of us here but we are growing'' said Mullu. Ethiopians have a hard time to be organized together. But we need to be together especially when you have no power. Most reach here not from Ethiopia, where the community lived for over two thousand years, but from Israel, where many began emigrating in the mid-1970s, she said.

In 1984, and again in 1991, Israel dramatically airlifted thousands of hungry and suffering villagers who said they had long been ostracized in their own country because of their religion. Today, it is estimated that there are more than 100,000 living in Israel. While tens of thousands more remain in Ethiopia, awaiting a chance to emigrate, a few hundred have made their way from Israel to the US, in search of educational or business opportunities.

Before the holiday closes Monday night, observers of Yom Kippur will usually go to a temple where they can hear the sound of the Shofar. "This is a big, big holiday for me," said Tadela. "I think of it as a day only for me. I don't work. To think about whatever I have done the whole year, good and bad, and to fast and to pray." For more information about Chassida /Shmella call 212-864-5860.