Passover celebrations in Ethiopia are similar to those in Israel. Explore the article to know about Ethiopian traditions of Pesach.

Passover in Ethiopia

The festival commemorating the exodus of Israelites from the slavery of the cruel Egyptians begins on the 15th day of the first Hebrew month of Nisan. It is celebrated throughout the world with immense zeal and enthusiasm. However, the traditions vary from country to country. Passover holiday is observed by the Ethiopian Jews as they consider their story similar to that of their Israeli ancestors. During Operation Moses in 1984-85, over 8,000 Jews fled to safe-haven in Israel from Sudan. Most of the Jews trekked from Ethiopia to Israel through Sudan. Hence, Passover marks the freedom of Ethiopian Jews as well. Ever since the American Association for Ethiopian Jews (AAEJ) began making efforts for rescuing and bringing Jews suffering in Africa to Israel, many Ethiopians have migrated to Israel. With the number starting from 200 about 35 years back, the number has increased to over 1,00,000 Ethiopian Jews becoming Israeli citizens. Read on to know more about Ethiopian celebrations and traditions of Pesach.

Passover Celebrations In Ethiopia
The Arrival Of The Jews In Ethiopia
The Falashas, an Ethiopian Jewish faith, migrated like many of the other Israelites to exile in Egypt following the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE during the time of the Babylonian exile. These emigrants were led on by the great priest. Until the reign of Cleopatra, they remained in exile in Egypt for few hundred years. When Cleopatra was at war against Augustus Caesar, the Jews supported her. However, when she was defeated, the Jews realized that it was unsafe for their small minorities to reside farther in Egypt and consequently there was another migration, which is supposed to have taken place approximately between 39-31 BCE. Some of the migrants arrived at South Arabia and further at the Yemen. Some of them went to the Sudan and continued their journey up to Ethiopia, helped Egyptian traders who guided them through the desert. Some of them are said to have entered Ethiopia through Quara (near the Sudanese border), while some of the others came via Eritrea. Later, when an Abyssinian king called Kaleb came to throne, he wished to enlarge his kingdom and therefore declared war on the Yemen and conquered it. And hence another group of Jews arrived at Ethiopia during his reign, led by Azonos and Phinhas. In 1977, the Israeli government started an endeavor to relocate the Ethiopian Jews, who were facing starvation and governmental anti-Semitism to Israel. The exodus officially ended in 1991, and almost all the Beta Israel were relocated to Israel.

The Celebrations
  • To commemorate Passover and their past, the Ethiopian Jews break all of their old existing earthenware dishes and cooking utensils and purchase new ones. This act symbolizes a break from the past thereby, starting a fresh start into a new life.
  • The Seder table is decorated with unique Ethiopian Jewish folk crafts brought all the way from Israel. Women in northern Israel, Afula, make hand-embroidered matza covers, table runners, mezuzahs and other decorations. While preparing homes for the festival, the houses are cleaned and searched at every corner and thatch for any left out crumb of chametz. They prepare matzo from wheat or legume flour mixed with water and salt. The Seder meal is more like a springtime celebration for the Ethiopians. The head of the family, known as kes (rabbi), leads the gathering by reading out the events from the Torah, such as the slaughtering of the paschal lamb, the 10 plagues and the Exodus.
  • Traditionally, the haggadah has never been a significant part of the Ethiopian Seder meal. To add to the celebrations, the drinking of the four cups of wine was also introduced after a group of Ethiopian Jews visited Europe in the 19th century and incorporated it into their traditions. These festivities were confined to households and vicinities only. In the recent times, the Ethiopians have started celebrating in public by organizing Ethiopian Seder for everyone, thereby creating a casual Seder atmosphere, which blends with the Ethiopian Jewish life.
Ethiopian Jews celebrate the festival of Passover with equal ardor and spirit as all other Jews residing across the world.