But that was then.
Now, the little drama club has turned into a unique amateur Ethiopian women’s theater troupe – the “Roots Theater” — that performs a play about that journey to Israel and the absorption process at small venues around the country. It gives audiences a rare peek into the often closed world of the Ethiopian community here and has also given the women of the troupe an improved sense of self.
“I want people to come out of the play knowing that we made real efforts to come here,” says Almu today, fixing her rhinestone-decorated baseball cap and kicking off her strappy gold sandals. “Most Israelis don’t understand this. It’s not like we came here because we had nothing in Ethiopia and it’s not like we were just airlifted out and that’s that.”
“We are often portrayed as people who were so poor and gentle that we would have gone anywhere. But it’s not true. We did this because we yearned for this country our whole lives and because we belong here in the land of our forefathers.”
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This summer, the Israeli government announced it was ending large-scale immigration from Ethiopia and that all further requests would be considered case by case. This policy leaves an estimated 8,500 so-called Falash Mura – Ethiopians who claim Jewish roots, the majority of whom have family in Israel – still clamoring for their collective right to immigrate.
The decision and the subsequent media coverage of the Falash Mura’s demands to be brought to Israel have reignited a sober public discussion here of this immigrant group and their complex integration.
Almost 65 percent of the community are on some kind of welfare assistance, according to a June report of the State Comptroller’s Office, And, while Ethiopians make up only 1.5 percent of the population, 11 percent of those in battered women’s shelters are Ethiopian. Last year, five of the 16 women murdered in domestic disputes were Ethiopian immigrants. Drug and alcohol problems among these immigrants are growing, too.