Yehudit (c. 960 CE) was born in the Jewish-Ethiopian Kingdom of Beta Israel (also known as the Kingdom of Semien), the daughter of King Gideon IV, who traced his lineage back to King Solomon. According to tradition, the Ethiopian Beta Israel Jews are descendants of the Biblical Israelite tribe of Dan – a claim supported by historical texts from the 9th and 10th century that refer to an independent Jewish Danite kingdom in Africa. In the 900s CE, the Christian Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum began an aggressive expansion, and sought to forcibly convert all Jews and pagans. King Gideon was killed in battle, leaving the monarchy to his daughter Yehudit, or Gudit. Gudit formed an alliance with a neighbouring kingdom, and soon raised a massive confederation to defeat Axum. Axum’s capital was destroyed, and its churches and monuments burned down. Gudit saved the Jewish population from forced conversion. The community would survive until modern times, and most have now settled in Israel. Gudit went on to sit on the throne for 40 years, establishing a new dynasty that would last three centuries. Historical records suggest she laid down vast trade networks, and ruled over a wealthy kingdom. In one tradition, she is said to have married a Syrian-Jewish nobleman. The golden age she ushered in lasted until 1270, when a new Christian dynasty got the upper hand. The Jewish Beta Israel Kingdom would survive until 1627, when it was annexed and dissolved.
Words of the Week
Better a bad reputation than a good epitaph.
– Golda Meir
“Judith’s Fields”: an archaeological site in Ethiopia said to contain the remains of Gudit’s pillaging of Axum
Haile Satayin, a.k.a Ayele Seteng (b. 1955) was born in Ethiopia. He immigrated to Israel in 1991 as part of ‘Operation Solomon’, when 35 Israeli Air Force and El Al aircraft amazingly transported over 14,000 Ethiopians to Israel in just 36 hours. The secret operation was launched in response to the collapsing Ethiopian government, and subsequent rumours of war and attacks on Ethiopia’s Jews, known as Beta Israel. In Israel, Seteng pursued his dreams and became a professional long-distance runner. He soon won a number of Israeli national championships, then moved on to international competitions, and competed all over the world. In 2004, he represented Israel at the Athens Olympics, and at nearly fifty years of age, was the oldest track athlete there. Four years later, he qualified again for the Beijing Olympics, making him the oldest runner once more. He nearly made it to the London Olympics in 2012, too, despite being 57 years old. Of this he has said: “My age is old, but my heart is young.” His Tel-Aviv half-marathon (21 km) time of 1:03:43 and Venice Marathon (42 km) time of 2:14:21 are still Israeli records. The father of seven children, he has won 31 national titles, and holds the record for being the oldest person ever to compete in a IAAF World Championship. In 2011, an Israeli documentary, Seret Ratz (“Running Movie”) was made about him.
Pharaoh commanded his people: “Every son that is born shall be cast into the River” (Exodus 1:22). The Nile was the mainstay of the Egyptian economy and its most venerated god. Therein lay the deeper—still relevant—significance of Pharaoh’s decree: Today, too, Jewish survival depends on our ability to resist the dictum that children must be submerged within an educational system whose focus and goal is the attainment of a “career” and “economic success…” – Menachem Mendel Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe