Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew is the new mini-documentary from the creators of Netflix-featured Beneath the Helmet and PBS-featured Israel Inside. The film follows the backstory and personal journey of Mekonen Abebe, a young African-Israeli Jew, once a young shepherd in Africa and now a commander in the Israeli Defense Forces. Mekonen is one of many brave young men and women drafted into compulsory service in the IDF, to defend their homeland and the liberal values of democracy, freedom and equality.

Born and raised in an Ethiopian village, Mekonen was a 12-year-old shepherd when his father died suddenly, less than a day before his family was to move to Israel. The film accompanies Mekonen back to Africa on an emotional journey. He explores his roots, makes peace with his past and embraces his future in Israel.

After a difficult adjustment period in Israel, Mekonen was fortunate to attend the Hodayot High School, which educates children from troubled backgrounds and helps integrate them into Israeli society. Mekonen became a decorated officer in the IDF, while staying true to his Ethiopian roots and culture.

Mekonen is an uplifting and inspiring film that will move audiences and show viewers that anything is possible with the right attitude, tools and support.

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Character Bios

First Lt. Mekonen Abebe
First Lt. Mekonen Abebe
Mekonen is a 21-year-old officer in the IDF’s 101st Paratrooper Brigade. At age 12, he immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, where he had worked as a young shepherd. Hours before boarding the plane, his father passed away, hurling the family into a tumultuous period of grief and uncertainty. Now, in Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew, we follow Mekonen as a grown man – back to Africa to visit his father’s grave for the first time, and to explore his roots – before returning to Israel to become a shining example to the Ethiopian community.
First Lt. (res.) Eden Adler
First Lt. (res.) Eden Adler
Eden was Mekonen’s commander in the 101st Paratrooper Brigade basic training base. At the age of 21, he was directly responsible for the lives, safety and operational effectiveness of 42 recruits and three sergeants. Eden led his platoon during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. He continues to serve as a Lieutenant in reserve duty. He grew up in the Western Galilee town of Kfar Vradim and now resides in Jerusalem, where he studies at the Hebrew University.
Hodayot Youth Village
Hodayot Youth Village
Hodayot (lit. “Thanksgiving”) is a boarding school and youth village in Lower Galilee, Israel. It houses approximately 200 students, many of them of Ethiopian origin. With a warm, family atmosphere and a dedicated, loving staff, Hodayot specializes in educating its students to believe in themselves and their abilities to overcome hardships and challenges. The school offers a special police studies program, with classes in criminology and sociology and also has a life sciences and agriculture track. Mekonen has been back to the school to talk about his journey and inspire students to pursue their dreams.

The Filmmakers

Raphael Shore
Raphael ShoreExecutive Producer
Raphael Shore is an accomplished filmmaker and Founder and CEO of Jerusalem U, a cutting-edge, film-based nonprofit organization transforming Jewish and Israel education. Shore has produced several highly acclaimed documentaries including Netflix-featured Beneath the Helmet and the PBS film Israel Inside.
Rebecca Shore
Rebecca Shore Director and Producer
Shore was a writer on the widely-viewed documentaries Beneath the Helmet and Israel Inside, a popular film that was screened on PBS across the United States. She is an artist, educator and lecturer.
Baruch Goldberg
Baruch GoldbergWriter and Editor
Goldberg was a writer on the documentaries Beneath the Helmet and Israel Inside and a researcher for several other documentaries. Goldberg received his B.F.A. in Playwriting & Theatre Studies from The Theatre School at DePaul University and spent several years working in Chicago theatre.
Oren Rosenfeld
Oren RosenfeldProducer, Director of Photography in Ethiopia
Oren Rosenfeld is an award-winning filmmaker, director and producer, specializing in documentaries. He has made films for the BBC, National Geographic and many others. His latest documentary, Hummus! The Movie, has been a major success in dozens of film festivals around the globe.
Strong Black Coffee
Strong Black CoffeeMusic
Strong Black Coffee (Café Shachor Chazak) is an Israeli hip-hop band formed by Ethiopian-born Ilak Sahalu, 25, and Uri Alamo, 23, cousins who immigrated to Israel as children. They write, sing and play hip-hop, rap and reggae with Ethiopian flavors. Their songs are catchy, upbeat and full of hope and optimism. Their song, “It’ll Be Alright”, featured in the film, reached number 2 in national charts in 2014.

Film Credits

Executive Producers

Raphael Shore

Naty Saidoff


Pamela Claman

Roberta Kaylie

Andy Lappin

Adam Milstein

Associate Producers

David Coleman

Richard Green

Amy Holtz

Larry Post

Producer’s Circle

Nancy and Dov Friedberg

David and Jean Bernstein

Scott and Andrea Bernstein

The BIMAH Foundation

Ronny & Toby Hersh

Radine & William Spier

The Erlbaum Family

Rob and Vicki Trachten Schwartz

Director’s Circle

Drs. Naomi Vilko and Sid Goldfarb

Beth and Jeff Kopin

Wayne Kopping

Moses and Susan Libitzky

Bertha and Ken Litvack

Leon Miller Family

Pam Rose

Marc and Susan Sacks

Ilan Sharon

Micah Smith

Ron and Nina Spiro

Jewish Community Youth Foundation, Princeton, NJ

Cinematographer’s Circle

Cecilia Chan

Benjamin Tripp MD SFM

The distribution of the film was made possible thanks to the generous help of Rob and Vicki Trachten Schwartz

About Jerusalem U

Jerusalem U creates and distributes innovative and stimulating films and film-based educational programs with the goal of making young Jews feel proud of being Jewish and emotionally connected to Israel.

ENGAGES millions of people across the globe through award-winning films. EDUCATES young Jews by providing exceptional educational programs that inspire a deeper connection to Israel and Judaism. EMPOWERS the best and brightest millennials to advocate for Israel and to develop groundbreaking solutions for the needs of the Jewish people.

Founded in 2007 by its parent company, Imagination Productions, today Jerusalem U has offices in Jerusalem, New York and Philadelphia. The organization is headed by Founder and CEO Rabbi Raphael Shore.