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Jewish Journal

Heroes’ Stories Discovered Again

by Tom Tugend

May 31, 2001 | 8:00 pm

"The Jews of Ethiopia: A Personal Journey Back to Their Past" consists of a collection of some 60 black-and-white photos taken by Dr. Wolf Leslau during a number of explorations of the Ethiopian hinterlands, starting in the mid-1940s.

Leslau, an internationally renowned professor of Semitic languages at UCLA for four decades, was one of the first scholars to visit the remotest Jewish villages and record the people's faces, holidays and lifestyle reminiscent of biblical times.

The photos were rescued from oblivion by co-author Colette Berman. She took them to Israel and showed them to young immigrant Ethiopians, who joyfully recognized their parents and grandparents.

Leslau is now a lively and hard-working nonagenarian, and some of the flavor of his journeys can be gleaned from his introduction to the book, which is reminiscent of journals by 19th-century British explorers.

"I left Gondar on April 8, 1947, accompanied by my cook, two Ethiopian Jewish guides, and some servants of my guides," he writes. "The news of my departure for Uzaba, a region entirely inhabited by Ethiopian Jews, preceded me, and after a mule ride of over an hour, two young men with rifles appeared at the top of the hill.... An hour later, I was confronted by some 50 Ethiopian Jews, young and old, emerging from a thicket, armed with rifles and sticks."

The text of "The Jews of Ethiopia" is in English, Amharic and Hebrew, and the book can be ordered from Millhouse Publishers, P.O. Box 84259, Los Angeles, CA 90073 for $20 a copy and $2 for shipping. For information, e-mail bercol@juno.com.

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