Beta Israels are Beginning to Celebrate Hannukkah
For centuries, Jews in Ethiopia did not observe the world-renowned Jewish traditional holiday, Hanukkah. That tide is beginning to shift, however, as they begin to blend with other Israeli people and cultures from around the world.
Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated in remembrance of the Jewish uprising against Seleucid king Antiochus and led by Judah Maccabee. It is observed to honor the time when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated during what came to be known as the Maccabean Revolt.
Jews in Ethiopia
The community of Jews in Ethiopia, also known as Beta Israel, was separated from the rest of the Jewish community in Israel and across the world for nearly two millennia. As a result, they simply drew all their traditions – including holiday observance – purely from the Old Testament, which does not include any requirements to celebrate Hanukkah.
Recent decades have seen this tradition begin to change, with the world becoming smaller and global travel becoming ever more common.
Beejhy Barhany is an Ethiopian-born, New York-based restaurant owner who probably embodies this adjustment better than anyone. She never celebrated Hanukkah while growing up in Tigray, Ethiopia but as she began to move around to other parts of the world, she saw her traditions inevitably change. “The way I grew to celebrate Hanukkah… well, right now, it’s funny,” Beejhy is quoted in an interview. “I have two kids. We celebrate Hanukkah like anyone else would.”
Meskerem Gebreyohannes shares an almost similar story to Beejhy’s. She also owns a restaurant – in Southfield, Michigan in her case. Meskerem has lived in Djibouti and Canada before she eventually settled down in the US in 2004. That journey has transformed her view and practices, with her recipes actually becoming a part of her Hanukkah celebrations. This has now become a rather common narrative amongst members of the Beta Israel community from Ethiopia.