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Abraham Kehati

Father's name: Kehat Levay
Mother's name: Elmito Bitwalei
Year of birth: 1938
Place of birth: Azozo, Gondar
Region in Ethiopia: Gondar
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Teacher
The language of the interview: Amharic

Abraham Kehati, teacher, Professor Tamrat, Dr. Faitlovitch, studies, teaching, Amharic, Hebrew, agriculture, renting, games, festivals, sabbath, kashrut, customs of ritual purity, ritual slaughter, dormitory, Yona Bugalo, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, immigration, school, management of schools, ORT network, smuggling, the Jewish Agency, Italians, Derg, Emperor Haile Selassie, Azozo, Gondar, Sarmella,  Addis Ababa, Asmara, Israel, Kfar Batya, Yemen, Ambuber, Kenya, Sudan.

Summary of the testimony:

Abraham talks about his family history. When he was a child, his family lived under Italian rule in the village of Azozo. Toward the end of their rule, the Italians treated the local residents abusively, so Abraham’s family moved to Sarmella. Abraham describes Sarmella, and the history and social makeup of the local Beta Israel community there. He relates that, under the rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, Jews were not given the right to own agricultural lands, and his family and the rest of the Jewish community had to rent them.

His father, who studied under Professor Tamrat and Dr. Faitlovitch, returned to Sarmella and taught in Amharic and Hebrew at the school. His son, Abraham, accompanied him to his work. Abraham relates that they would learn the Hebrew alphabet and songs for festivals and sabbaths. He talks at length about his childhood, about his studies and the games they would play, and he describes his daily routine on weekdays, sabbaths and festivals. He also explains the customs of ritual slaughter, kashrut and ritual purity.

During the time he was a pupil, Mr. Yona Bugalo sent an emissary to Abraham’s school (among other places) to locate the top pupils. Abraham was chosen and went to study in the dormitory in Asmara run by Mr. Bugalo. Abraham talks about the year he studied in the dormitory, about his studies, and about the social life there. He describes the many arguments about customs and tradition that took place between the Kesim and the religious teacher who had arrived from Israel. He was sometimes sent to bring post. One such time he returned with a letter from Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef confirming that Abraham and another 11 students would be sent to Israel.

Two weeks later, in 1955, the delegation was flown via Yemen to Israel. They were greeted with flowers at the airport and taken to the dormitory in Kfar Batya, where they studied with other immigrants of 44 different nationalities. The first song he learned was “Hineh ma tov uma naim” and Abraham describes it as a place filled with great happiness and love. Abraham talks at length about the social life and the syllabus that also included harvest work, milking cows, taking care of chickens, and so forth. On festivals, when the other students would go to spend the vacation with their families, Abraham and the other members of the Ethiopian delegation stayed in the dormitory and keenly felt the loneliness and the distance from their families.

After four years of study in the dormitory, the delegation was sent back to Ethiopia to educate the Jewish community and help them immigrate to Israel. The members of the delegation met with Emperor Haile Selassie, who tried to persuade them to work in governmental positions and to enrich the entire Ethiopian nation, but they refused and were steadfast in their mission to save the Jewish community.

Abraham and the members of the delegation travelled from Addis Ababa to Ambover and began to build a school there. Many pupils came to study. Slowly, Abraham and the members of the delegation, together with organizations such as ORT and the Jewish Agency, gradually built more schools in various provinces – a total of 27 schools. They also built several clinics. Abraham was responsible for the Kesim in the various schools: recruiting them, managing them and paying wages.

When the Derg party deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and took his place, many of the members of the delegation were arrested and accused of spying for Israel, and the schools began to be closed. Abraham, who was active in legal immigration of the Beta Israel community and obtained Aliyah permits for fifty families, was now wanted by the authorities. When there was no longer a legal channel, Abraham and other activists tried to smuggle families via Kenya, unsuccessfully. The activists finally discovered how to smuggle the immigrants via Sudan. During this period, Abraham was forced to hide and to operate secretly, until he finally turned to the authorities and requested protection. After many trials and tribulations, Abraham managed to immigrate to Israel via Sudan.

Abraham Kehati

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