Mekonen screening brings unique perspective to campus

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By Rachel Kalusin
For the Mitzpeh
@rkalusin

“Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” a movie by Jerusalem U, was screened at the Stamp Student Union on April 26 as a part of Israel Week. Chloe Valdary, director of partnerships and outreach in Jerusalem U, is touring with the film. She spoke about her love for Israel and the Jewish culture, even though she is not Jewish herself.

The purpose of Israel Week is to educate students on Israeli culture. The series of events is 8 days long, ending with Israel Fest on McKeldin Mall.

The night started at 6:30 p.m. with free popcorn and a half-hour of socializing with organizers and attendees of the event. Valdary gave advice to students about how to combat anti-Israel remarks and movements, and then opened up the floor for a question and answer session.

The film follows young Ethiopian-Israeli Jew Mekonen as he becomes a commander in the Israel Defense Forces. Mekonen travels back to Ethiopia after living in Israel most of his teenage life and reflects back to his life there.

Freshman English major Joseph Kuttler was a paratrooper in the IDF before attending this university, which is what intrigued him to see the film.

“I have a lot of Ethiopian friends from the army so I wanted to see if my friends had a similar experience to Mekonen,” said Kuttler. “After watching the movie I think that a lot of the struggles my friends had paralleled his own.”

Chloe Valdary, director of partnerships and outreach in Jeursalem U, speaks about fighting BDS on college campuses during a film screening of “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew.” Rachel Kalusin/Mitzpeh.
Chloe Valdary, director of partnerships and outreach in Jeursalem U, speaks about fighting BDS on college campuses during a film screening of “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew.” Rachel Kalusin/Mitzpeh.

“It’s important to have this movie screening during Israel Week because you get a different story than usual,” Israel Week committee member Layna Fromkin said. “You don’t usually hear about the Ethiopian-Israeli experience in the army and it is an important one.”

Fromkin, a sophomore psychology major, attended a film festival in New York City where Jerusalem U produced a different film. After enjoying the original film she kept tabs on the organization. When she saw the organization had produced another film she contacted them and arranged for a screening at this university.

People unaffiliated to the university came to the screening as well.  

Elkana Bar Ethan, a Birthright Israel employee said, “As an Israeli it’s interesting to see the way American college students react to this type of movie.”

Valdary has been touring with the film around college campuses. Although she is neither Israeli nor Jewish, she has made her mission to educate the public about Israel and the rising anti-Semitism around the world.

“I am not Jewish, but I came because the film seemed compelling and a Jewish friend of mine wanted to come,” Olivia Herdje, junior psychology major said. “I did not know that there were Zionists out there that weren’t Jewish so that was cool to learn about.”

Israel Week aims to educate non-Jewish people on Israeli culture. Fromkin said she enjoyed learning Valdary’s story.

“I think it’s cool getting the perspective of someone who is non-Jewish, but came to love Israel on her own,” Fromkin said.

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