Beta Israel – The Pioneers Who Marched Home


Note: This lesson is designed to be learned following the “anchor” lesson of the Pioneering unit,  A Pioneer Is Born

Until the 19th century, the Jewish community in Ethiopia, also known as “Beta Israel,” existed in isolation from other Jewish communities around the world. In 1973,  the Israeli Knesset (parliament) decided to apply the Law of Return to Ethiopian Jews and allowed them to make Aliyah to Israel. Both their emigration from Ethiopia as well as their immigration to Israel were complex for many reasons.  In this resource, learners will watch a documentary that tells this story from the perspective of an Ethiopian Jew named Zimna. After viewing the film, students will reflect on the journey of the Ethiopians who made aliyah and discuss whether they fit the criteria of an Israeli pioneer.

The learners will:

  1. understand the unique challenges that Ethiopian immigrants to Israel faced 

  2. know about the Ethiopian emigration to Israel, and their experience as immigrants in Israel 

be able to place the Ethiopian immigrants in the context of the Israeli pioneering ideal that was established in the first part of the 1900s.

Note: All of the links in the lesson plan below can be viewed as a whole class activity or individually, on the learning platform.

Step 1: Show the students The film “An Emissary Named Zimna

This was directed by Micha Shagrir in 1993, at a time when Jewish immigration waves were still arriving in Israel from Ethiopia. The film follows the activities of Zimna, an Ethiopian immigrant who arrived in Israel as a child with the help of the Jewish Agency and who dedicated his life’s work to bringing additional Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

  • After watching the film, direct the class to talk about Zimna’s activities in the context of the “Israeli pioneer”. Start the discussion by asking:

    • Based on the video, should Zimna be recognized as an Israeli pioneer? Why or why not?

    • To what extent can Jewish immigrants to Israel from Ethiopia, people arriving from a completely different country and essentially starting their lives from scratch, be considered pioneers?

Computer, projector, personal computers for each student (optional)

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