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Asnakhu Sendekie \ Yaacov Elias

Father's name: Sendaka Elias
Year of birth: 1941
Place of birth: Pinter in the province of Gondar
Region in Ethiopia: Gondar
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Inspector in the ORT
The language of the interview: Amharic

Asnakhu Sendekie (Yaacov Elias), nature, agriculture, shepherding, judge, games, customs and tradition, manners, proverbs, Kesim, Yona Bugala, school, dormitory, inspector of the ORT network, Professor Tamrat, palace, trade, accounting, teacher, arrest, prison, racism, violence, bribe, theft, robbers, flights, diplomat, politics, Molko, Operation Moses, Italians, Derg, Emperor Haile Selassie, Pinter,  Gondar, Wasaba, Israel, Addis Ababa, Kfar Batya, Asmara, Haifa, Ambuber, Kenya.

Summary of the testimony:

Asnakhu describes his family history, his village, and the local history. He relates that his father was appointed as a judge under Italian rule and was one of the founders of the village of Wasaba, where Asnakhu grew up. As a child, he would shepherd sheep and cattle, herding them across the village’s river. Sometimes, the herd would be swept away during floods, and he would have to search for them and re-gather them. Asnakhu also describes the games he played, and he talks about expressions, proverbs, and the rules of behavior and manners that were instilled in him as a child.

Asnakhu’s family and the Kesim in his village often told him about Israel, as well as about the history of Ethiopia and its settlement by the Jewish community. When Yona Bugala came to Wasaba to establish a school that would teach Hebrew, Asnakhu immediately signed up. He worked on his family’s land during the day, and he learned at the school by night.

When he was nine years old, Asnakhu’s father died of an illness. As he was a public figure, his funeral was large and dignified. Asnakhu’s older brother took responsibility for the family. When he was thirteen years old, he was chosen by Mr. Yona Bugala to take part in a delegation of top students who were to be sent to study in Israel. With Bugala’s encouragement, Asnakhu moved to the boarding school he ran in Asmara. He describes the syllabus and daily life in the dormitory. He also describes the preparation for the journey to Israel, the journey via Gondar and Addis Ababa, and the transition from village culture to city life. The delegation met, among other people, with Professor Tamrat and Emperor Haile Selassie.

Asnakhu and other members of the delegation arrived in Israel, where they lived and studied in the Kfar Batya youth village. Asnakhu talks about his studies and the feeling of being on a mission that surrounded the experience. He also relates how he received the permits required to continue studying, and about his studies in Haifa in the School of Trade and Accounting Studies.

After eight years, having completed his studies, he kept his promise and returned to Ethiopia to pass on the knowledge he had gained to the Jewish community. The return to Addis Ababa was difficult. There was no budget for teachers in the schools of the ORT network. Eventually, when the required permits were received, he was sent to be a teacher in his village of Wasaba, where he was reunited with his family after a long separation.

Asnakhu talks about the many challenges faced by the school in Wasaba. At the end of the year, he was transferred to the school in Ambover, where he taught, among other subjects, math, science, history and Hebrew. After six years, he was appointed as an inspector of the schools in the province. Asnakhu and the Jewish teachers faced racism and discrimination. There were also internal challenges – the students left their parents to work in cities and the teachers wondered whether they were really helping the community as they had intended.

After the revolution, when the Derg party took power, it was unclear whether the ORT network would continue to operate in Ethiopia. Asnakhu was arrested by forces of the new regime, accused of spying, interrogated and tortured. When he was on the brink of death, waiting to be executed like many of his colleagues, Asnakhu was released, thanks to joint efforts of the ORT network and the Israeli prime minister at the time, Menachem Begin. He returned home after over two years in prison and was bedridden for a month.

After recovering, he returned to work as a teacher in the ORT school in Ambover. A year later, the organization’s activity in Ethiopia was prohibited and the school was closed. Asnakhu travelled to Addis Ababa and began to send letters to an American Jew, asking the latter to help him and other teachers from the organization leave Ethiopia. Meanwhile, he made a living by working in a tanning factory. He eventually managed to receive assistance. He and his oldest son were smuggled to Israel on a flight via Kenya. A year and a half later, Asnakhu brought the rest of his family to Israel.

When the regime changed and diplomatic relations between Israel and Ethiopia were renewed, Asnakhu returned to Ethiopia, this time as an Israeli diplomat, and participated in bringing members of the community to Israel in Operation Moses.

Asnakhu Sendekie \ Yaacov Elias

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