The words we use without understanding, the utterances we speak without thinking about their origins and what they mean have deep and profound consequences. In the tongue resides life and death, the words that we use can either give us hope or they can kill our spirits. One thing I have noticed in my time as an ex-community organizer, a once activist and a former journalist is the frequency of libels we use as part of every day conversations. Though Ethiopians are loving by default and communal by nature, we have a way of disparaging each other with words and labels.

These words proliferate in our communities, hurtful sayings that were meant to diminish and exclude have become the norm. If you want to know why tribalism is exploding in Ethiopia and threatens to rip our nation apart, look to insults and libelous words as some of the main sources for this ongoing strife.

If we are to take a step back from the brink and lead a movement of redemption and healing, it is vital that we acknowledge past wrongs and say I’m sorry in order to be forgiven of past mistakes. As I noted two weeks ago in my Fasika communique, saying “Yikirta” is as much for the giver as it is for the receiver. There is healing that comes when we acknowledge the pains other people carry.

It is with this in mind that I take this Sabbath day to publicly say yikirta and personally express contrition to our Beta Israel brothers and sister. Though I’m not in a position to offer a national apology to Ethiopian Jews, it is my hope that as I say yikirta as an individual that others will follow suit and likewise seek absolution for the wrongs—whether intentional or unpremeditated—that we have been heaped upon Ethiopian Hebrews. Like most Ethiopians, Beta Israel are the descendants of Judah, condemning them is an act of self-hate.

The apology I’m making and the forgiveness that I’m seeking from the sons and daughters of Beta Israel is for calling you falasha without realizing how injurious that pejorative is. Up until 2008, I used to call Beta Israel Ethiopians that derogatory word. One day, as I was speaking to a group of Beta Israel at a convention that I was invited to, I stated my admiration of
falashas and the way they thrive as a community because they believe in community reinvestment. The minute I said that word, I could sense a deep discomfort from the group to the point where I cut the conversation short.

A few minutes later, away from the group setting, one of them kindly pulled me aside and told me that the word felasha is an insult. He told me that felasha is a way of otherizing Beta Israel believers and telling them that they don’t belong in Ethiopia—felasha literally means stranger who doesn’t belong in Amharic. From that moment on, I never used that demeaning word other than to speak against it. I apologized to the group that day and told them that I spoke without wisdom. They all accepted my apology without a hint of resentment. Such is the grace of Beta Israel.

Sadly, even though I have stopped using that insulting word that was always used to humiliate Beta Israel, it is still used widely in our country. Beta Israel have been systematically belittled for centuries, even though Ethiopia is unlike any other nation in this world in terms of the way the three major religions coexisting peacefully for centuries, we nonetheless have used that word felasha to disparage Ethiopians Jews. In truth, Beta Israel are an integral part of our nation’s history and very foundation of our spiritual connection to God.

Without Beta Israel and Judaism as a whole, there would be no Christianity nor would Islam exist. All three religions are inextricably linked; though we call our supreme creator by different names, at the core the three Abrahamic faiths have one thing in common—the old Testament. The Torah, the Bible and the Quran are not so much separate as they are a trilogy. In each faith, we are called to humbly worship Egziabher, to love at all times, to care for the vulnerable, to seek peace within and to follow the laws of Moses.

Sadly, we let labels and dialects get in the way of our common struggle to seek and find peace. For centuries, humanity has fought over whose God is greater when all religious scripts tell us that we should love one another and that we must honor God so that we can be blessed by our Father. We put these admonitions aside and focus on our differences; in the rush to gain religious supremacy, we turn to pejoratives and bash each other with hurtful words. This level of vindictiveness and childish antics get in the way of many blessings; instead of working together to honor God, we work apart only to gain His disfavor.

Before using that word felasha in the future as a way to belittle our fellow Ethiopians who practice a different faith, I hope all of us remember that Eyesus was Beta Israel. Let us also remember that King Herod turned Dengel Mariam, Yosef and their new born child Eyesus into felashas by forcing them to flee to the continent that was once called Ethiopia. Likewise, the honorable prophet Muhammad was forced into exile and sought refuge in the Axum Empire in order to avoid persecution. There is a reason why all three faiths coexist peacefully in Ethiopia; our nation is the focal point of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the same reason why the Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia, our country is a land blessed and protected by God.

As an Orthodox Christian, I turn to the teachings of my savior and healer Eyesus in order to impart these final words. As He admonished in Matthew, we must ask forgiveness of those whom we trespassed against in order to be forgiven of our sins. I thus ask Beta Israel to forgive me for my trespasses and for the times I said hurtful words out of ignorance. The truth is that we are all felashas in this world seeking a final redemption. But our father is heaven, who is love above all, loves us all equally and calls us His children no matter our mistakes. We are born into sin but we are saved by His grace.

It is my hope that one day, the same way Operation Moses and Operation Solomon airlifted Beta Israel out of Ethiopia and Sudan and flew them into Israel, that Ethiopia will initiate Operation Sheba to return Beta Israel back to Ethiopia. Likewise I pray this for all of Ethiopia’s children, as the video below conveys, no more sedet, let us gather back in Zion and return home to our mother Ethiopia.

We have been scattered to the wind and spread to four corners of the world for too long. I realize, after my own tribulation, that there is no regret in hardship — we are broken to get better through Him. This is why we were chosen by God, not because we are special but because the children of Ethiopia (the country and the continent) were chosen to endure much so that we can give back to humanity even more. When we return malice with kindness and when we love in the face of hate, on that day a kalidan (promise) shall be fulfilled, the prophecy of Kebra Nagast shall come to pass and Ethiopia shall be restored. No more tears for enat Ethiopia, joy shall be our names.

Before that day arrives, we must atone as a nation and forgive those who hurt us and likewise say yikirta to people we have hurt. No more yelling past one another, let us hear each other out and let us embrace one another instead of adding logs on to esat (fire). We have a choice, love one another and restore Ethiopia or be vengeful and become strangers in our own homes. I pray that we choose love.

“Princes will come out of Egypt; Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God.” ~ Psalms 68:31