Israeli Values Religious Voices

Letter 64 - Rabbi Sharon Shalom

To the State of Israel and all its inhabitants,

When I heard people say about the Ethiopian Jews that they are quiet and silent, I was offended. I thought one needs to shout and not to remain silent, in order to become a real Israeli. Over time I realized that I was wrong. Being quiet and silent is actually very Jewish and as Israelis, we need that silence tremendously. 

My grandfather Gideon (Dajan), used to sit with me in our village in Ethiopia, and tell me about the promises of the prophets of Israel regarding “Kibbutz Galuyot”, the ingathering of the exiles. One time I asked my grandfather: “When will we arrive in Jerusalem?” He answered: “Now!”. I did not understand: “When is it now?” and he replied: “Right now, in a little bit we will arrive in Jerusalem”. His grandfather also promised him that “We will go to Jerusalem right now!”. It seems that every generation promised the next generation “right now”, until this three thousand years old dream became a reality. What was that force that has helped us hold on to hope and not despair? Silence, in the sense of justification of the law.

Silence is a recurring motif in various sources as a reaction to tragedies. However, in Ethiopian culture, like in biblical culture, silence is a value - not necessarily connected to tragedies, but as a commonplace. Supposedly, in a world which is “all talk” and in a culture in which “you yell -  means you exist”, a philosophy of silence sounds foreign and delusional. 

So what is the meaning of silence in such a modern world? From my own personal experience and in Ethiopian culture, the root of silence is the root of hope. The biblical believer did not ask “why” something happened, but, “what for” it happened. The question of “why” wants to receive answers to things that happened in the past. In such a situation, these past events can delay us from moving on and continue towards a balanced life. The question of “what for” on the other hand, is asking us to let go of any past events and wants to receive practical tools that will allow us to move forward and build a life of balance between the past and the future. 

In ancient times, in the land of Israel, it was customary to praise silence. It is written in the Talmud in Masechet Megillah that “if a word is worth a rock, then silence is worth two rocks”. Now it is clear why one of the exposures of silence is hope. Jews all over the world, in all generations, knew how to be silent. This was the silent secret of Holocaust survivors and the silent secret of Ethiopian Jews. Silence helped them to make space and shift from a “discourse of guilt” to a “discourse of responsibility”. Now we can understand the big advantage of silence. 

The State of Israel is a result of hope and dream. The dream about Israel was the connecting point of all Jewish diaspora around the globe. Silence is not a weakness, but a big force of hope, which allows us to push the boundaries of the “I” and the boundaries of the “us”.  Silence can be the beginning of a big hope for our shared life in Israel and in the world. 


Rabbi Sharon Shalom

Rabbi Sharon Shalom is the Rabbi of Congregation “Kdoshei Israel” in Kiryat Gat, as well as a senior lecturer and chair of the international research department of Ethiopian Jewish community at Ono Academic College.

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