The Ethiopian Jews (the Beta Israel) are a living, breathing miracle. It simply doesn't seem natural that a Jewish community could exist for thousands of years in complete isolation from the rest of their brethren, without the support network that every other Jewish community has had, and still adhere to the traditions of their ancestors. They strictly kept the laws of ritual purity as described in Leviticus, and made animal sacrifices, long after these two practices were cast aside by rabbinical Judaism as obsolete without the existence of a Temple. Their religious practice ran along a parallel line, developing its own customs and beautiful liturgy.
If it sounds like I love these people, it's because I do. I can't find a more perfect example of the resilience of the Jewish people, who had preserved their identity despite many generations of hardship, privation and apparent hopelessness, and who remained one nation despite being scattered worldwide for so long. The fascinating cultural mosaic of modern Israel can bear evidence to that.
Fascinated as I am with Ethiopian Israelite history, I had long inner debates on whether I dare to venture into it as an author. The vocal pitch of #ownvoices and #notyourstory demands that the ethnicity of the author should match that of their protagonists, which is ridiculous and limiting to a degree I can hardly describe. Finally, I said, Hang it all! I'm Jewish! If someone is part of my people, their story is, in a way, my story too. Thus Land of the Lost Tribe was born.
I am currently working on another novel set in Ethiopia of over a thousand years ago, but in the meantime, I let my creative bunnies run wild and produced this complementary short story, Mahari, which fast-forwards a few centuries all the way to 1862. At that time, the condition of the Beta Israel was probably at an all-time low. The glory of their independent kingdom, which at one point ruled over extensive regions of Ethiopia, was long past. Contact with the rest of the Jewish world was nonexistent. Oppression, isolation, hopelessness, and missionaries took a heavy toll, and many of the Beta Israel converted to Christianity, much in the same way as the Marranos of Spain.
Abba Mahari, an Ethiopian Jewish monk, was a charismatic religious leader who, in the year 1862, organized and led a desperate but inspiring exodus from Ethiopia in the hopes of reaching Jerusalem. Abba Mahari failed, but his heroic journey helped to keep the dream alive and paved the road to the eventual repatriation of Ethiopian Jews in Israel.