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A New Ethiopian Tradition for Hanukkah

Meskerem Gebreyohannes prepares dinner at her restaurant, Taste of Ethiopia, in Southfield, Mich. Credit Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

For Meskerem Gebreyohannes, all of the Jewish holidays bring doro wat, a luxurious chicken dish she makes with slowly cooked onions and a red chile sauce layered with flavors from the African spice trail.

Despite growing up in a Jewish family in Harar, a city in Ethiopia a few hours by car from Somalia, she never celebrated “modern” holidays like Hanukkah.

Mrs. Gebreyohannes, 58, is the chef and an owner, with her husband, Kassa, of Taste of Ethiopia, a small restaurant in Southfield, Mich. She is like many other Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, who did not learn the story of the Maccabees defeating the Greeks. It appears in the oral Torah that was written down around 200 B.C., a time when much of the world was unaware of the existence of a Jewish community in Ethiopia.

Separated from Israel and the Diaspora for more than 2,000 years, Ethiopian Jews followed the Old Testament, which does not include the Hanukkah story, as a source for holiday customs. Mrs. Gebreyohannes fled Ethiopia in 1981 as a refugee to Djibouti, then went to Canada in 1982, where she started observing the custom of lighting a menorah for eight days. She settled in Michigan in 2004.

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