Beta Israel: Jews in the African Diaspora

Jews of the African diaspora featured in MU exhibit

“They called themselves Beta Israel — the House of Israel — and used the Torah to guide their prayers and memories of the heights of Jerusalem as they lived in their thatched huts in Ethiopia …” Baltimore Jewish Times article, “Falashas: The Forgotten Jews,” November 1979

Manchester University is displaying artist William Rasdell’s work through Sept. 13 in Gallery G of the Jo Young Switzer Center.

William RasdellThis showcase displays Rasdell’s photos from his field study in Israel during November 2013. The work focuses on the community that Ethiopian Jews have created for themselves in Israel, as well as their determination to thrive.

His exhibit at the North Manchester campus, “Beta Israel: Jews in the African Diaspora,” features photographs taken by Rasdell, as well as some by the community members themselves.

Rasdell’s artwork is inspired by artists Ernst Haas, Gordon Parks and Henri Cartier-Bresson. However, he said his creative focus and goals are “influenced by issues related to migration as a transforming agent in cultural evolution.”

“My work is an attempt to understand how these cultural relationships have evolved into contemporary societies,” Rasdell said in his artist’s statement. “In that process I have created pictorials that bear witness to the legacies of influences and retentions in daily life and customs in Israel, South Africa, Cuba Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Mexico Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, and across the United States.”

Rasdell has worked for major corporations such as American Airlines, HBO, Warner Brothers Publishing and McDonalds Corp., as well as the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. His works have been exhibited throughout the world, including Italy, South Africa and Cuba. 

Gallery G is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 12-3 p.m. Sunday during the MU school year. Summer hours vary. Admission is free. For more information on this exhibit, contact Ejenobo Oke, director of galleries, at 260-982-5334 or by email at  

Rasdell will speak at Manchester in September as part of the Values, Ideas and the Arts program.

This exhibit is sponsored by the Efroymson Family Fund, which gave a $10,000 grant for him to study the Lemba people of Zimbabwe, which is the subject of the September talk.

April 13, 2015 (updated April 21, 2015)

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