Being in Ethiopia, after dreaming of visiting the country for years, was wonderful. Being there in the company of 20 loquacious Londoners of various Jewish persuasions was even better: a journey of constant dialogue and learning. With Rabbi Sybil Sheridan of West London Synagogue and Abye Tilahun Lakew of local Jacaranda Tours as our guides, we saw vast stretches of the country’s north.
The First Day. Addis Ababa.
We made it to the hotel just to dump our bags and then headed out straight away to meet with the ‘Secret Jews’ of Kechene. Of course, they’re not so secret now. Their synagogue in a slum on the outskirts of Addis has a wall emblazoned with a menorah and other Jewish symbols. This is their story. In a period of intense persecution in Gondar some centuries before, a third of the community decided to leave for the centre of the country. They acted outwardly as Christians meeting in caves for Jewish worship. For 400 years they have only married each other, and kept their identity a secret till about 10 years ago when a group of young men defied their elders and ‘came out’ as Jews. They now have a synagogue in Addis.