St. Louis Park display will tell story of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel

“Megemeria: New Beginnings” will be on display at the Sabes Jewish Community Center’s Tychman Shapiro Gallery Thursday, Sept. 15, through Thursday, Oct. 27.

An opening reception is planned 6-8 p.m. Sept. 15 with a talk by Daniel Sahalo at 7 p.m.

The Megemeria School of Jewelry and art, situated adjacent to the Yvel Design Center in Motza, Israel, trains Ethiopian immigrants, many of whom lack formal education and experience, to become skilled goldsmiths and stone setters. Megemeria was founded by Orna and Isaac Levy and embodies the couple’s belief that equality and success for the Ethiopian community will come through opportunities in the job market.

“The Megemeria enterprise is definitely designed as a for-profit business with the long-term goal of creating a financially self-sustaining venture,” said Orna Levy. “We believe Megemeria will eventually be an international social business that will employ hundreds of people and be a great model of a socially responsible business that other companies can follow.”

The Megemeria “Genesis” Collection is designed by graduates of the Megemeria School of Jewelry and is inspired by the Ethiopian students’ personal and collective journeys to Israel. The collection features handcrafted necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings fashioned from silver or 24-karat, gold-plated brass. Many of the pieces incorporate inspiring inscriptions such as “love,” “friendship,” “happiness” and “hope” written in Amharic, the students’ native language. Megemeria means “genesis” in Amharic.

The exhibition on display at the Sabes JCC will tell the Megemeria story through photographs and the jewelry line.

In the 1980s, Ethiopia forbade the practice of Judaism and the teaching of Hebrew. Having suffered through years of famine and in the midst of a civil war, Sahalo made the long and dangerous journey on foot from northern Ethiopia to Israel with his family as a 5-year-old child in 1984. Because Jews were not allowed to leave Ethiopia, their small group traveled by foot to the border of Ethiopia and Sudan, walking only at night for eight weeks, facing the threat of robbers, hunger, wild animals and the cold of the desert at night.

“I remember walking through the night from my village to reach the Sudanese border,” he recalled. “My sister died of malaria on the way and had to bury her and keep on walking. We walked for nine weeks.”

After waiting on the border, they were finally flown to Israel, where they initially lived in an absorption center. Sahalo became so malnourished that his “belly was really swollen,” he said.

“I spent my first few weeks in Israel in a Jerusalem hospital,” he said. “I was surprised to see white Jews!”

Sahalo served in an Israel Defense Forces combat unit of the paratroopers, becoming a lieutenant and training other soldiers. He later studied international relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He now works for the Megemeria.

This exhibition and event is a partnership with the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.

A Megemeria Trunk Show is planned 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23, at Continental Diamond, 1600 Utica Ave. S. No. 13, in St. Louis Park. Sahalo will visit with visitors to the trunk show.

Info: Robyn Awend, [email protected]