My Encounters with Discrimination

by Maly Jackson

My long journey from Ethiopia to Israel and finally to Harrisburg has been exciting, exhilarating, and at times, disappointing, because of individual and societal behaviors.  As a child in Ethiopia, I learned from my Mother and Grandparents that Israel is the land of milk and honey. Jerusalem was the city of gold.  After living in Jerusalem, we quickly learned that these treasured myths had no basis in reality.

I first encountered the term “Falasha” after our exodus, which means wanderer, stranger, or outcast. Although probably used out of ignorance and not malice, the term is derogatory and demeaning.  As a distinctive community in my home country, the Ethiopian Jewish community’s faith and identification has never faltered.  We identify with all Jews worldwide.  Our ethnicity and skin color never mattered to us since we simply regarded ourselves as part of the Jewish people. 

The tragic killing of a young Ethiopian, Solomon Tekah, in Israel last month, represents the 11th such death at the hands of the Israeli police.   The resulting riots across Israel represent the pent up frustration among segments of Ethiopian Israelis who have confronted language, cultural, and educational barriers beyond those faced by earlier immigrants.  However, the most painful for Ethiopian immigrants, especially second-generation Ethiopian immigrants in Israel, is discrimination, and at times, racism.  I have encountered several painful incidents myself in Israel and once in the US. 

Ethiopians in Israel have integrated into society as professionals, such as pilots, lawyers, and doctors, even as members of the Knesset.  Ethiopian Jews, as Jews elsewhere, are motivated to learn, work hard, and care for our families.  Discrimination and racism anywhere weakens the fabric of our society and weakens us as a people.  This must end and I will continue to strive to speak out against racial discrimination no matter the venue, situation, or aggrieved population. 

In 1946, Albert Einstein gave a speech at Lincoln University where he called racism a disease, adding “I do not intend to be quiet about it.”    I do not intend to keep quiet about it either, in Israel or elsewhere.  Israel is an amazing country with a rich, inspiring history.  Our greatest strength is our people and we are a stronger, better people when we are truly one and not divided by petty, artificial prejudices. I love Israel as much as I love equality.  We should settle for nothing less!