Rabbi Sharon Shalom, PhD, a visiting scholar at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, spoke about the challenges facing Ethiopian Jews in Israel in a lecture on Wednesday titled, “Between Identification and Identity: a Case Study of the Second Generation of Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel.”

By Arianna Unger (The Justice) |

Born in a small village in Ethiopia, Rabbi Sharon Shalom had always dreamed of coming to Israel. As he wrote in his short biographical essay, at the age of 8, he and his family embarked on a more-than-two-month arduous trek to the Twawa refugee camp in Sudan, where they waited for the Israeli Mossad (secret service) and the Jewish Agency to organize their transport to Israel.

After being told that it would take years to gain permission for his entire family to travel together, Rabbi Sharon Shalom emigrated to Israel with only his aunt and uncle. He spent his early years in Israel in a children’s home feeling daunted by the physical and cultural novelties of his new environment. At times, he admitted, he even found himself questioning his own identity as an Ethiopian Jew living in Israel.

Sharon Shalom entered the Schusterman Center conference room with a smirk on his face. “What did you think when I walked in with my jacket and my tie?”

“You looked good,” responded the audience in unison.

His expression changed. “But, I do not feel good,” he said. “I am [uncomfortable].”

He removed his suit jacket and tie. “I feel much more comfortable now.”

He paused. “But you know, there is clothing that you cannot remove: skin color. If I feel uncomfortable in my clothing, I can easily remove [it] and feel comfortable, but skin color is something that is inherently part of you, and you can never remove it.”

As of the end of 2015, he said, “People of Ethiopian descent … represented almost two percent of the total population of Israel. [Yet] the Ethiopian community has faced and continues to face complex social and financial problems. Two well-known events of discrimination targeted toward [the Ethiopian community] greatly offended their personal and religious identity.”

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