As Leah Avuno grew up, she had issues coming to terms with her intersectional identity, especially in a society where she often stood out from others.

By David Marino, JR (Jewish News) |

Leah Avuno, who was born in Ethiopia, delivered a message about the importance of self-acceptance and the diversity that exists in Israel, where she now lives, in an address hosted Jan. 25 at the Hillel Jewish Student Center on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

Avuno’s address came after a screening of “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” a documentary that chronicles a young soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces as he visits his home country of Ethiopia. The event was co-hosted by several different Jewish groups on campus, including Chabad at ASU, Jewish Arizonans on Campus (JAC), ASU Mishelanu and the AEPi fraternity.

Avuno was only in kindergarten when she realized that she was not exactly like everybody else. She had questioned a classmate for using the Hebrew word Ima to refer to her mother, confused as to why the classmate had not used the word for mother from Ethiopia’s native Amharic language. The girl replied by scolding Avuno that she wasn’t in Ethiopia anymore. She was in Israel. “That was the day I realized that my whole world was upside down,” Avuno said in her talk. “Everything was destroyed.”

ALSO READ: Ethiopian-Israeli Artist Hirut Yosef Creates Gorgeous Paintings to Celebrate Her HeritageAvuno had been born in Ethiopia a few years prior, into an environment she described as apprehensive about Jews. Due to several aliyah operations beginning in the late 1970s, much of Ethiopia’s Jewish community had already left for Israel, including a large amount of her extended family. “Honestly, we were the only Jews in the neighborhood,” Avuno said. “All of the community just left.”

So when her family had a chance to immigrate to Israel, Avuno’s mother quickly took it out of her concern for her young daughter. She also did not know when she would get the opportunity again.

As she grew up, Avuno had issues coming to terms with her intersectional identity, especially in a society where she often stood out from others. She said it made her feel insecure about herself.

“I was trying to realize who I am. ‘Am I Ethiopian? Am I Israeli? I’m Jewish, why would they say that I’m not Jewish? Is it just because I’m black?’”

Continue reading this story on Jewish News of Greater Phoenix
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