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The Thousand-Mile Shidduch

Rhona Lewis

How close are Ethiopia and England? When Ethiopian Galit married British Eliyahu, they found that with rock-solid emunah and a generous dash of flexibility, the bridging of two very different cultures could become the adventure of a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“Life in a village in the mountains of north Ethiopia was only a little different from the kind of life that Avraham Avinu led,” Galit says from her apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh. With gentle candor, she takes me back to her home, and the rock-solid faith she imbibed as a child. It was this emunah temimah that her husband was drawn to.

The simple homes in Avratensa, a tiny village near the city ofGonder, northwestEthiopia, were set among hills of tawny grass dotted with tall trees. The round huts were constructed from a framework of branches, plastered with gray-green clay that the women prepared, and topped with a roof of straw. Beds lined the walls, with parents sleeping on the top bunks.

Men worked in fields an hour’s walk away, cultivating wheat, barley, and corn. Closer to home, the women tended vegetable patches filled with peas, beans, and pumpkins. “We also grew cotton, and my mother would roll it into threads that she’d weave on a simple wooden loom into cloth, which we then dyed and embroidered,” Galit recalls. “An industrious housewife would be up at five in the morning to join the group of women going to the river to fetch water in clay jugs that we had made.”

Jewish life in this simple setting was rich. “My father prayed to Hashem in his own words every morning, before leaving for the wheat fields. My mother was always talking to Hashem. When it rained, she’d pray for the rain to fall as a blessing and not a curse. When my three brothers, sister, and I left our home to walk to the village school, she’d ask Hashem to open our hearts to learn good things,” says Galit. “On Shabbat, however, we all went to shul and repeated set prayers after the kesim (rabbis). Then we’d make Kiddush over bread — we didn’t grow grapes. Back at home, we ate a cold milchig meal, because we couldn’t light a fire on Shabbos.”

Many of the hundred people in Galit’s village descended from the elder who headed the village. “We took a fiery pride in our status as Jews and could all draw our lineage back seven generations,” says Galit. “We kept ourselves totally separate from the non-Jews, refusing to attend their schools. I’d never seen a non-Jew before I left the village when I was six years old. When my husband later told me that he had been to school with non-Jews, I was horrified. In Ethiopia, if a non-Jew touched you, you had to toivel. The non-Jews in turn, looked at us with awe.”

This respect from non-Jews was so second nature to Galit that when she visitedLondonafter her marriage and heard Muslims hurl racist comments at her family as they walked back from shul on Shabbos morning, she yelled back just as loudly, much to the consternation of her new English family.

 

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