By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/JNS.org http://www.jns.org/latest-articles/2016/6/2/mekonen-puts-a-face-on-the-stories-of-the-idf-and-ethiopian-jewry#.V3D8SjU_nSY=
Squeals of laughter and high-spirited traditional Ethiopian dancing, coupled with deep and mournful cries of loss and pain. The piercing sound of bullets whizzing above a soldier’s head. “Ready, aim, fire.” The quiet smile of a night under the stars with your fellow comrades.
“Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” the latest production from the film-focused educational non-profit Jerusalem U, is the story of an intrepid and introspective young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier.
The film, which debuted on Israeli Independence Day last month, is a spinoff of Jerusalem U’s previous documentary, “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front” (2014), which followed five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recruits, including Mekonen Abebe, through their military training. “Mekonen” follows up by honing in exclusively on Abebe, a young Ethiopian shepherd who overcame financial and familial hardships to realize his dream of becoming an officer in the IDF.
“After nearly every screening of ‘Beneath the Helmet,’ the audiences had burning questions about Abebe. They connected with him and wanted to know more about where he came from and how the next chapter of his story would unfold,” said Rebecca Shore, Jerusalem U’s creative director and the director of “Mekonen.”
The film, according to Jerusalem U CEO Raphael Shore, is part of the organization’s series of mission-driven productions that are meant to engage, educate, and empower Jewish young adults—particularly on college campuses, where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are on the rise.
“We create these products to try to inspire and push back,” Shore said at the premiere event for “Mekonen” in Israel, which welcomed more than 200 youths who were culminating a year studying in Israel before attending college in the United States. “We all tend to think of ourselves as small. But we are all leaders. I hope you step up.”
“There is definitely growing anti-Semitism on campus—swastikas being painted on houses, assaults. We see it growing,” said Moshe Lencer, an international ambassador for the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi). “But on the other side, the pro-Israel camp is growing, too.…The students use these movies to help put a face to the story.”
But as much as “Mekonen” is a pro-Israel film, it is also the universal story of the Ethiopian aliyah (immigration to Israel)—and of aliyah in general.
“I decided to participate in ‘Mekonen’ to be there for others who need hope,” Mekonen Abebe, charming and modest, said in an interview with JNS.org. “It’s to give the weaker segment of society, those who are struggling, an example that you can win from nothing.”