“This is my country. I fight for it and I will continue to fight for it,” Mekonen Abebe, and Ethiopian-Israeli commander in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

By Rhona Lewis |

Mekonen Abebe, a young Ethiopian shepherd,overcame financial, familial and racial hardships and rose to the rank of officer in the Israel Defense Forces. “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew” is a forty-minute documentary produced by Jerusalem U that will inspire you to think about your Jewish identity.

His Story

Mekonen Abebe grew up in a village in the Ethiopian highlands. Despite the simplicity of village life, it was there that his grooming for leadership took root. His responsibility, as a child, for a flock of thirty sheep brings to mind the fact that the greatest leaders in Israel were shepherds. When Mekonen Abebe was six years old, his father, Abebe, led a group of thirty families on a trek to the city of Gondar in north-west Ethiopia in preparation for their move to Israel. Ostracized by most of the local Ethiopians, the family spent the next six years living in a shack with walls of mud and straw. The day before they were scheduled to move to Israel, Mekonen’s father passed away from a heart attack. But he had already given his son a moral compass and the strength to become a leader of his people.

Mekonen AbebeAdjusting to a new culture is challenging for any immigrant. But for Mekonen, who was only twelve when he moved to Israel, aliyah was a double challenge: not only did he have to cope with the shock of a new culture, he also had to step into his father’s shoes and help his mother care for the family. After a difficult period, Mekonen joined Hodayot High School, a religious boarding school and youth village in the Lower Galilee. Home to approximately 200 students, many of them of Ethiopian origin, Hodayot is the last stop for teenagers who have stopped believing in themselves. Known for their dedication to their students, the staff didn’t give up on Mekonen.

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