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Yeshayahu Zah’ne

Father's name: Meheret Wadaj
Mother's name: Abjesh Meheret
Year of birth: 1951
Place of birth: Aybe, Gondar
Region in Ethiopia: Gondar
Main occupation in Ethiopia: Shepherd, farmer and student
The language of the interview: Amharic

Yeshayahu Zah’ne, nature, agriculture, herding sheep and cattle, blacksmithing, pottery, education, history, Christians, ritual purity, kashrut, racism, menstruation house, customs and traditions, family, food, coffee, games, punishments, beatings, art, tools, milk, servants, Baria, studies, reading and writing, monk, Bible, building houses, school, arranged marriage, wedding, ceremonies, donations, Murray Berland, diplomatic relations, Emperor Haile Selassie, Aybe, Gondar, Senbako-Wadama, Ambober, Addis Ababa, Rome, Israel.

Summary of the testimony:

eshayahu describes his family history. They received permission to settle in Aybe, a predominantly Christian village, due to the blacksmithing and pottery services the members of his family provided to local residents.

Yeshayahu describes the village, his house, and the family’s daily routine. He talks about his childhood and education. He explains the role of a child in the family. He also lists the customs of ritual purity and kashrut. He compares the lifestyle of the Jews in the village with that of the Christians.

He began to herd sheep and cattle from the age of five. He worked and played games with his friends. During this period, Yeshayahu encountered many instances of racism against Jews.

He describes what his position as a shepherd entailed, such as where and with whom he would shepherd. He slept outdoors when he took the flock far from home. He describes what he ate, how he prepared bags, coats, walking sticks and other tools from branches and leaves. He also relates what punishments he received from his parents or other members of the community if he did not do his work properly.

Concurrently to his work as a shepherd, Yeshayahu learned to read and write from a monk in the church. It was forbidden to touch gentiles, so after each class he had to conduct a purification ceremony before entering his house. As the oldest son who had to help support his family, Yeshayahu was not able to continue studying. He taught himself from the Bible at home. Yeshayahu learned quickly and would read newspapers and letters out loud for his family and the entire village.

When he was 12 years old, he moved with his grandmother and the other members of his family to the village Senbako-Wadama. Yeshayahu describes clearing the land, building the house, and the process of moving. A short time after the move, Christian neighbors accused his family of providing shelter to a criminal. Many members of the family were arrested and imprisoned. For two months, Yeshayahu helped his father write letters to the authorities in order to secure his relatives’ release.

The family was eventually released and went back to living together. Yeshayahu learned agricultural work. He helped his father work his lands, but quickly became independent and began to clear land and grow produce for sale. Yeshayahu describes the various agricultural tools he worked with.

When he reached the age of 18, Yeshayahu wanted to study, but his family opposed this move out of fear he would assimilate. They pressured him to get married and work to support the family. Yeshayahu threatened to enlist in the army until his parents finally allowed him to begin studying. He lived with his grandmother and studied in the school in Ambover. Yeshayahu describes the school and the classrooms, the syllabus, and the social experience. Thanks to his diligence, he progressed rapidly through the classes. During vacations he returned to his village, as he had promised his parents, and helped the family with their farming work.

After completing elementary school, he went to high school in the city of Gondar, where he rented an apartment with four of his school friends. Yeshayahu got married during his first year in high school. He describes the customs and ceremonies involved in matchmaking and weddings. After his wedding, Yeshayahu continued his studies. He describes Jewish daily life and the difficulty of living in the city of Gondar, far from his family.

When he started 11th grade, his oldest son was born. Yeshayahu met an American Jew, Murray Berland, who began to send him money, clothing, and books. When his benefactor asked him in one of his letters what he wanted, Yeshayahu replied that he wanted to immigrate to Israel. Despite the bureaucratic difficulties, and even though there were no diplomatic relations between Israel and Ethiopia, Berland managed to obtain an entry visa to Israel for Yeshayahu. Yeshayahu and he reached Israel via Rome.

Yeshayahu Zah’ne

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