Thursday, April 27, 2006

Ethiopians In Israel

One of my interests in Israel will be learning what I can about the Israeli-Ethiopian community -- a challenge, since I have no common language. Assimilating Ethiopian immigrants has been and will continue to be a major challenge for Israelis. Meanwhile, many Ethiopians maintain their culture and food habits.

Yesterday in Ha'aretz ( I read two articles of interest.

The first Ha'aretz article described a shortage in Israel of the Ethiopian grain teff. Teff is an ancient grain -- quite nutritious, but with very small kernels. Ethiopians domesticated teff a few thousand years ago. It is cultivated only there, and used for the characteristic spongy Ethiopian flat bread called injera.

The Ethiopian government is motivated to cut off Israeli supplies, some Israeli sources say, because they suspect the Israelis of reselling the teff to Eritrea. Officials at the Ethiopian Embassy in Israel deny intentional manipulation. They blame the situation on limited supply and rising prices for teff within Ethiopia.

"Teff is currently the most expensive grain to purchase in Ethiopia as it requires labor-intensive harvesting and processing techniques, and produces especially low yields," according to "MORE ABOUT ETHIOPIAN FOOD: TEFF " (

Our local Ethiopian restaurant, The Blue Nile in Ann Arbor, says that they are aware of the shortage. However, they use white flour to make their ingera, and therefore they do not purchase any teff.

The second Ha'aretz article was about the usual control-freak behavior of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel. Ethiopian immigrants can obtain Israeli citizenship only if they receive a conversion certificate -- even though they are considered Jewish before they come to Israel. Conversion officials, who are all ultra-orthodox, are taking advantage of their semi official status. Currently they are withholding certificates for a number of Ethiopians who participate in non-orthodox institutions or attend non-orthodox schools. No surprises, just the usual unfortunate conflict between secularist Israeli society at large and the fanatics' demands on them, with collateral damage to helpless victims.

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