Across the River, directed by Duki Dror, is a documentary film that provides insight into some of the contemporary issues facing the Ethiopian community in Israel, as seen through the eyes and experiences of Moshe Rachamim, who came to Israel in 1973. Born in a small town called Gultosh in the Gondar region, Moshe left at the age of 12. His birth name is Tsegaw Mahari which means Happiness Mercy.
He recalls the terrible insult that he received when he first came to Israel. They took down his pants and drew blood, thereby converting him, without his even knowing what was going on. As a result, he became an activist for the Ethiopians who came in the 1980s – that they should be considered Jewish.
In 1996, there was a Ministry of Health decree that no blood from the Ethiopian community be used in the blood bank as if all Ethiopians have HIV. People were shocked and offended. Soldiers who had served in the army were insulted. This caused rioting and the Ministry turned to Moshe to help with outreach to the community on issues concerning HIV. In the film, he talks to a group of new immigrant Ethiopian women -- in his role as a Ministry of health worker – about HIV, the medication and the shame. He tells the story of Aychu, who had AIDS and helped with explaining the disease to the community. But when he stopped taking his medicine, he died. Moshe is trying to get the community to deal with HIV. He's trying to rescue people, even one at a time, even as the number of people in the community with AIDS grows. He says that the community has to undergo a change because currently it is much too passive.
Moshe goes to visit his roots in Ethiopia, returning after 39 years. Growing up, there was a river dividing his Jewish community from the non-Jews. Children who dared to go across the river had to be purified when they returned. Returning to his village today, he finds non-Jews living there.
In Addis Ababa there are large posters publicizing the need to be tested for HIV. Ethiopia is the third largest community in the world with HIV. He goes to visit a prevention outreach program and realizes that our biggest problem in Israel is the silence and the stigma. Moshe also goes to visit the compound in Gondar where masses of people dislocated from their villages have been waiting for years to go to Israel.
This is the story of one man who is trying to make a difference, taking his beliefs and his background, and actively trying to help immigrants from Ethiopia as they build their lives in contemporary Israel.
Across the River is available from Go2Films.