How One Jewish Family Com Started

I am Chaim Yoseph (by Neal Brodsky)

Something deeply touches my heart about Ethiopia – thousands of families with Jewish roots who have known Torah for many centuries. The faces of color, the vibrating dances that heal the body even in the midst of pain and poverty. Forbidden to own land for generation after generation. The Jewish women, creating pottery from the Earth. The men shaping metal with fire. Hiding in the mountains. Walking over the Sudan border to languish in refugee camps. Coming out of the mountains in hope of rescue, down to the cities. Waiting for return to Zion.

My family’s fading Jewish practice over a hundred years of war and revolution that displaced us across many borders. My hunger to bring that which has survived, those who have survived, towards expression.

Learning so late in life the possibilities held in the cells of my own body. The secret held by my father over nine decades until it slipped from his lips at age 91. The blood of Aaron the Jewish priest and thousand of years of Kohanim, running in his veins and mine.

I am being born to the essence of my human-ness, my limitations, my true colors. Communicator. Facilitator. Family therapist. I seek wholeness. Coalescing into full aliveness.

Shining light on the Hebrew name given me at birth. I am Chaim Yoseph.

That's why I am going down to Ethiopia.

The Scent of Water –  A Poem by Neal H. Brodsky (in honor of Gezahegn Derebe still longing for Zion in Ethiopia)

Amid the rushes by the river, a boy emerges, the sun on his face, burnished in the constancy of light.

Child of the ages, cradled in the mountains of Ethiopia for millennia, cleansed in moving waters, the scent of water in his skin.

Winds from Jerusalem, course across the land and the great sea to touch his face and rest amid the curls of his hair.

Voices by the river murmur the name of the One in his ears.

Memories of cleansing waters.

And the fire, stoked and tended by the father clothed in white linen.

The light of the Great Mother shining in his eyes, illuminating rocks and rushes.

Deep in his heart, the memory of great journeys.

The scent of water on his skin.

An Invitation to Understanding Family Legacy

by Neal H. Brodsky, MPA, LMFT

As a family therapist, I help young people and adults re-create their stories – including family dynamics and challenges - so they can move forward with power and clear direction in life. I also am committed in support of communities who have Ethiopian and Jewish roots currently living in Ethiopia and Israel. Traumatic circumstances involving many centuries of oppression affect many of these families and that is why I am inviting a new generation of young people with Ethiopian roots to connect with the richness of their family legacy through a project in which younger people will interview their elders in service of “giving voice” to their own lives. I call the project “Family Threads” because of the patience required to follow and weave threads into the tapestry of beauty that is a life well lived.

The fabric of my own family’s spiritual life unraveled over time. Here are a few threads of my personal family tapestry which I am working to weave back together. I have a Hebrew name, Chaim Yoseph, after my grandfather Joseph Brodsky who immigrated alone as a young man to the United States in 1911. I never met my grandfather because he died before I was born. His son, my father, at his 91 st birthday party mentioned for the first time in my life that Joseph was a Kohein - descended from Aaron, the first Jewish High Priest. While called to Torah as a Bar Mitzvah at age 13, my father like his father, became a secular or non-religious Jew. As a child, I was sent to a secular Yiddish Folk School where I learned no Hebrew. Now, I pray each day, wearing my father’s 1938 Bar Mitzvah Tallit and the Tefillin gifted to me by my brother-in-law Peter who says that the information of my Kohein lineage reaching me later in life “needed to catch up with my Jewish spiritual practice.” Today, I am also “catching up” with the life of service inherent in my lineage. Service is not something new to my family. My father and mother working through the American Friends Service Committee during the Civil Rights era, helped bring young people of color from the southern United States to educational opportunity in our New York City community. I remember sitting down to a family dinner with one of these young people. He went on to attend Harvard University and become a U.S. Ambassador. I will never forget this lesson about the power of service to change lives.

Today, the “Family Threads” project is a key part of my life in service. May we together weave strands of many colors back into a tapestry of light.

For more information about and the Family Threads Project contact Neal at:

[email protected] 203-644-3960

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