Connecting With My Jewish and Ethiopian Heritage in Israel


Daniel Walzer is a summer intern at Long Island Wins and a junior at Portledge School in Locust Valley.

This summer I traveled to Israel with a Jewish youth group called B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. My goal, and that of the other teens on the trip, was to connect with my Jewish heritage.

Both my parents are Jewish: My dad is a German Jew and my mom is an Ethiopian Jew. So this trip had a special meaning for me.

Before leaving, I imagined that Israel was composed entirely of Jews, but that wasn’t the case. A quarter of the population isn’t Jewish, and that diversity includes a range of immigrants.

I found my own heritage represented in Israel: The county has 120,000 Ethiopian immigrants. During my time there, I was able to meet some of them.

20110713-daniel1I heard stories from Ethiopian immigrants about how they once lived in huts back in Ethiopia and walked six miles a day for water. In Israel, they had running water, housing, and universal health care.

Their family life has changed, too. In Ethiopia, children are servants to their parents, but, in Israel, young children learn Hebrew quickly. This becomes an advantage since it’s more difficult for their adult parents to learn the language. Familial roles are reversed since parents grow to depend on their kids.

As a child with an Ethiopian parent, I found this very interesting. In the past, whenever I visited my Ethiopian side of the family, I would bow to my elders. In Israel, however, the children appear to hold more power in family life.

Over the next week or so, I’m going to write about the different immigrant groups I met while traveling in Israel.