Ethiopian Israeli filmmaker pulls no punches

Above: A scene from Shmuel Beru’s film “Zrubavel,” which
portrays some of the difficulties faced by Ethiopian immigrants.
Even as it tells of discrimination and difficulties, Beru pulls no
punches when portraying his own community’s faults. His
characters often wallow in self-pity, drink and use drugs,
steal and beat their wives. (Transfax Film Productions)

Los Angeles Times
Shmuel Beru, who arrived in Israel in 1984 in the first wave of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants, tells his people’s story in the award-winning ‘Zrubavel.’ But not that many white Israelis are listening.

By Edmund Sanders
August 10, 2009

Reporting from Tel Aviv — Growing up, they called him the “chocolate boy” and worse. Shmuel Beru arrived in Israel at age 8 with the first wave of Ethiopian immigrants in 1984. Classmates, who’d never seen a black person before, rubbed his skin to see if the color would come off. Read more.

Related past stories:
The Ethiopian ‘Spike Lee’

Above: The film shows the story of Almaz (above) and her
family. An Ethiopian immigrant dreams of becoming
the Spike Lee of Israel and decides to video document
his community. “Much of the story is told through
the lens of his personal video camera as he travels
his neighborhood filming everyone and everything
from the mundane to the criminal.”
(Amharic and Hebrew w/English subtitles).

Events News
July 2, 2009

New York – Zrubavel, the first domestic film about Ethiopians in Israel, which screened in New York at the 6th Annual Sheba Film Festival in May 2009, will open in theaters today.

Even after three decades, all that most Israelis know about this population of more than 110,000 is what they read in newspaper reports: problems of integration, juvenile delinquency, domestic violence – or, more rarely, one successful Ethiopian immigrant who becomes a doctor, a pilot or a famous singer or actor. But what do we really know about the Ethiopian Jews of Israel – their values, their traditions, their language, their music, their food, their dreams, their problems and how they deal with them, their feelings?.

Read more.

3 Responses to “Ethiopian Israeli filmmaker pulls no punches”


  1. 1 MT Sep 18th, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Dear Mr. Sanders,

    I am writing this note in response to your recent article on La Times; Ethiopian Israeli filmmaker pulls no punches. Thumbs up for a great piece! However, one phrase caught my eyes, “custom remarkably similar to Judaism” and made me wonder if you really considered doing some background research about the history from Ethiopian side. I am saying to you that they are Jews, Jews that spoke the grandfather of Hebrew, Amharic. Amharic is Aramaic’s cousin….in some parts of Ethiopia it still exists–with a different name. If you go to Ethiopia and visit old monasteries and churches you will see the reminiscent of Judaism that was practiced by most of the population (long ago)…..Star of David all over the wall. Actually, the Star of David is considered as one of the religious symbols in Ethiopian Orthodox church. I think that phrase would mostly apply for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians who eat kosher diet and observe Sabbath (Sembet in Amharic and fyi Sabbath in Amharic simply means #7); but not to the Jewish that resisted persecution and killing to preserve their religion.

    Please consider correcting it, as subtle as it is, it is painful and heart breaking to be denied of your heritage again and again! Most of them were promised a great life and freedom of religion before taken to Israel not to be picked on, and to be told their way of Judaism is not the right way….. “let’s teach you the correct way, how can you be black and Jew?,” not knowing Middle East is actually, the land of Brown—Ethiopia used to be Abyssinia, that extended to the Golf of Aden and southern part of the Arabia.

    Please accept my apology if I offended you with my comment. I appreciate your article.

    Regards,
    MZT

  2. 2 Gigi Jan 30th, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    thanks mtz

  3. 3 Ashira Mar 24th, 2010 at 2:04 am

    Who’s grown up in Israel without being called lots of names?

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