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Radai Mahari

Father's name: Kess Kashi Mahari
Mother's name: Danki Wendegen
Year of birth: 1962
Place of birth: Asagada, Tigray
Region in Ethiopia: Tigray
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Shepherd and son of a Kes
The language of the interview: Tigrinya

Radai Mahari, nature, shepherding and cattle herding, Ge’ez, Kes, religious priest, missionaries, customs and tradition, ritual purity, Sigd, racism, curses, prayer, Tefillin, Tzitzit, festivals and special occasions, synagogue, religion, seasons of the year, agricultural work, crops, theft, blows, forced conscription, imprisonment, jail, the priestly blessing, prayer books, Bible, Derg, Asagida, Tigray, poetry, Sudan, Israel.

Summary of the testimony:

Radai begins with a prayer in Ge’ez. He talks about his family history, and he describes his village, Asagada, and its synagogue. His father, Kashi Mahari, was one of the leading Kesim of the village. Radai relates how his father and the other Kesim fended off the many attempts made by Christian missionaries to convert the local Jews. He also talks about the many racist incidents towards the Jews and the derogatory terms used to refer to them, which were based on Tefillin and Tzitzit.

Radai extensively describes the customs and traditions of the community, including the customs of ritual purity. He talks about the importance of knowledge being transmitted orally and describes the social and communal role of the Kes. He describes the Kes’s daily schedule and explains his role in events, festivals and special occasions. Radai also describes the interactions between Christians and Jews, and the theological debates between them.

Radai talks about the history of the Sigd festival, which originally bore the name “Mehlella,” which originated from a prayer to protect the lives of children and youth in the community. Additionally, he talks about the festivals – preparations for them, the prayers connected to them, how they were celebrated and the mutual assistance among members of the community. He describes the synagogue, its content and the customs connected to it.

Radai’s daily routine included milking cows, shepherding and cattle herding, and bringing them into an enclosed compound in the evening, in order to protect them from predators. Radai talks at length about spending time in nature with the animals and he describes the plants in the grazing area. He talks about the various kinds of farming work – ploughing, planting and harvesting – and how he carried these out in each of the seasons of the year.

During their free time, on festivals and special occasions, the Kesim would gather the children, including Radai, and teach them to read and write. They also encouraged the children to participate in the prayers in order to practice their reading. For a short period of time, a teacher came to the village who taught in classrooms in an orderly manner.

When the rebellions against the Derg regime began, the rebels of the TPLF faction conscripted all the educated people and sent them into battle. Radai’s family was the last in the village to leave for Israel as his father, in his role as Kes, was obliged to remain until the last member of the community left. Radai had managed to avoid conscription. On his way to Sudan, he was captured by the Derg regime and imprisoned for three months. Upon his release, he set out for Sudan once again. He was almost executed by Derg soldiers on the way, but he eventually managed to escape to Sudan and from there he immigrated to Israel.

To conclude, Radai shows various holy books that were passed down in his family and he reads out excerpts of prayers from them.

Radai Mahari

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