Friday, September 18, 2015

A Song of Longing

Kay Kaufman Shelemay’s A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey is part travelogue, part memoir, and part coming of age tale of a young scholar in search of intellectual and emotional fulfillment.  It is also the story of the degeneration of a country; its plunge into chaos, war, and famine. 

Shelemay went to Ethiopia in the early to mid-seventies to study the Beta Israel, the Jews of Ethiopia (which she calls Falasha throughout the work).  In the process, she met her future husband, a scion of a wealthy Adenite Jewish family living in Addis Ababa.

This book evolves into an exploration of some of the more distant areas of the Jewish diaspora, but is also about the gathering together of Jews.  Shelemay, an Ashkenazim, marries a Sephardi man as she makes contact with the Beta Israel.  During her studies of Beta Israel and Christian liturgy (mainly through song), she is one of the originators of the origins of the Beta Israel, a theory which still holds currency among scholars today.

She is one of the last witnesses of the Beta Israel in Ethiopia before their immigration to Israel, and their complete evolution to Ethiopian Jews.  As such, her well written book is invaluable. 

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