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ethiopia exteriorExterior View (2011), 15” x 11” Watercolor, Jay A. Waronker


Succat Rahamin Synagogue (1940s)
Adenite Jewish Community
Banin Sefer
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 9 and 10


ethiopia interior

Interior View (2011), 15” x 11” Watercolor, Jay A. Waronker



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In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Aden in Yemen as a British colony was home to a substantial number of Jews.  By the early 1930s, the situation of Jewish community among the wider population had deteriorated, and many Jews left at that time.  This pattern continued in the 1940s, with some Jews immigrating to Israel, and into the 1950s and 60s.  In 1966, the British finally surrendered Aden, and the remaining Jews left with them, moving mostly to Israel or Great Britain.  A small contingency of Adenite Jews wanted to remain in the region, however, and they came to settle in Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia.

Once in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Adenites never fully assimilated with the broader community made up of native Africans who were mostly Christian yet also sometimes Muslim.  The Jews, who tended to speak Italian, Arabic, and English versus the indigenous languages, congregated with each other and with European expatriates, especially Italians. They generally did not marry Ethiopians, and the Ethiopians in turn never fully integrated them.  The community grew in the 1960s and early 1970s, as relations warmed between Israel and Ethiopia.  Hundreds of Israelis moved to Ethiopia to work and advise the government.  For the first time, the Addis Ababa synagogue was able to have a rabbi.  Yet this golden period did not last.  When the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1974, most of the Israelis went home and many of the Addis Ababa Jews followed.  When the communists toppled the emperor in the mid-1970s and installed a dictatorship, even more Jews emigrated, and synagogue services ended.  Since that period, with some positive social and political changes in the country, the Adenite Jewish community in Addis Ababa, albeit minute, stabilized.  Succat Rahamim Synagogue has managed to remain open, yet marginally so for the handful of long-standing and newer-arrival Jews.  There has not been a rabbi at this synagogue for more than thirty years, and for a long time it has been difficult to gather a minyan for prayer services.

Succat Rahamim, a synagogue established central Addis Ababa by Jews who emigrated from Aden in Yemen, dates from the middle 20th century.   It is located in a neighborhood called Banin Sefer, an area named in honor of the Banins, an Adenite Jewish family who settled in Addis Ababa.  The Banins prospered in town, and they came to own property in this part of the city.   A local narrative claims that the synagogue, located on the second floor of a modest building purchased by the Banins, initially served as a bank, warehouse, or vaults before it was retrofitted as a sanctuary.  It remains unclear if this was the case as the small space does not convincingly seem to fit any of these original functions.   It could be that the sanctuary may have been designed in an existing building, yet this space as it has always appeared was certainly always a sanctuary and not merely retrofitted.   

While the synagogue remains in use by the very small Adenite Jewish community still residing in Addis Ababa, the surrounding property long fell out of Jewish hands.  Succat Rahmain therefore remains as testament of what once way.  It survives – adequately maintained and watched over – more as a relic of a bygone era when it functioned as an active religious and social center for a Jewish community versus as a fully operational Jewish center today.


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