A Photography and Video Project by Avishai Mekonen
Seven Generations was created by Avishai Mekonen as a project of the Six Points Fellowship for Emerging Jewish Artists, a partnership of Avoda Arts, JDub Records, and the Foundation for Jewish Culture, and is made possible with major funding from UJA-Federation of New York.
SEVEN GENERATIONS explores the assimilation of the Ethiopian Jewish population in Israel , and the loss of traditions integral to their identity. At the crux of the project is the ancient East African tradition of counting, in which the elders of the community name members of an individual’s ancestors back seven generations. It has been practiced mainly by kessim (Ethiopian rabbis) and elders for centuries in Ethiopia and now in Israel , where the Ethiopian Jewish community has relocated in waves since the 1970s and, most dramatically, in 1984 and in 1991, when thousands were brought from Sudan and Ethiopia to Israel in undercover airlifts. While the older generations still count, keeping alive the community’s past, this aspect of the culture is lost on the youth. The rituals of counting seven generations of ancestry ensure generational continuity and that Ethiopian Jewish history will not be lost
One of the main problems in this community is the issue of representation, in that they are often represented in ways that considered negative, inaccurate, and rarely, if ever, from an Ethiopian POV. SEVEN GENERATIONS is a critical project in that it offers a view from within the community into this ancient ritual in order to preserve it for future generations. The exhibit points to the loss of Ethiopian identity by grouping the older generations and the younger generations separately, facing one another. Two short videos further explore the personal stories of the subjects in the photographs. This stark contrast depicts the importance of celebrating the past and preserving an endangered part of history while acknowledging the effects of assimilation.
SEVEN GENERATIONS explores one particular group struggling to maintain tradition while becoming part of a larger community, but it is a tension that resonates amongst the stories of immigrants throughout the world, amongst all populations, who struggle with assimilation. The project is timely, as many of the elders still practicing counting are beginning to die. Through this body of photographs and videos, the goal is to help make visible this often hidden history and community.