Yeganyahu Avishai Mekonen emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel in 1984 as part of Operation Moses, and has worked as a photographer and filmmaker on projects investigating issues of race and identity.
"400 Miles to Freedom," a documentary film executive produced by Be'chol Lashon, is about Avishai's dangerous journey from Ethiopia to Israel to the United States. In 1984, the Beta Israel–a secluded 2,500–year–old community of observant Jews in the northern Ethiopian mountains–began a secret and dangerous journey of escape. Co–director Avishai Mekonen, then 10 years old, was among them. In the film 400 Miles to Freedom, he breaks his 20–year silence about the kidnapping he endured as a child in Sudan during his community's exodus out of Africa. This life–defining event launches an inquiry into identity, leading him to African, Asian and Latino Jews in Israel and the U.S.
Avishai's other work includes Seven Generations, a photography and video installation that offers a view into an ancient Ethiopian Jewish tradition that is grounded in the past but keeps an eye to the future. Also in collaboration with Be'chol Lashon, a section of Avishai Mekonen and Shari Rothfarb's documentary film project, "Judaism and Race," is part of "The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography" that originated at the Jewish Museum, NYC, and has traveled to the Skirball Museum, L.A. and the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco.
View the trailer for "400 Hundred Miles to Freedom" below
"At times heart–wrenching, at others educational, ‘400 Miles’ moves you to take a long look at your own sense of identity." —JSpace News
"A stunning piece of filmmaking that also gives the audience a vast amount of new knowledge and perspective
and leaves a powerful impact on viewers." —Sun Sentinel
400 Miles to Freedom is a documentary that chronicles co-director Avishai Mekonen's exploration of what it takes to claim one's own identity. From Israel to the United States he connects with other Jews of color with similar struggles, and discovers how his community's trek across Africa in 1984—and what happened to him along the way—is part of larger histories of people affected by immigration, war, and diaspora. Through his personal point-of-view, the film tells the dramatic story of his family’s dangerous walk out of Ethiopia, their time in Sudanese refugee camps, and, ultimately, the life-defining event for Avishai of having been kidnapped as a boy by slave traffickers in Sudan.
But as an adult and as a father, he sees that he must face his past. Like many immigrants and their children, his legacy is to both reconcile the trauma of the journey to new countries and learn to balance multiple cultures and identities. Providing a rare view of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) and other Jews of color, the film tells a universal story of overcoming the experience of being branded as 'outsider’ while ultimately affirming one's identity and ties to family, community, and culture.
400 Miles to Freedom provides critical visibility for Jews of color and elevates these diverse, underserved, and underrepresented communities into the general public consciousness. It unravels the misconception that all Jews are white through Avishai’s personal journey and the stories of other Jews of color he meets along the way: African-American Rabbi Capers Funnye, Cuban-American Rabbi Rigoberto Viñas, Korean-American Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, Ethiopian kessim (rabbis) in Israel, scholars Dr. Lewis Gordon and Dr. Ephraim Isaac, and others. Exploring how Jews, historically diverse, are a global people whose boundaries transcend geography, culture, and race, the film reflects the universal experience of having multiple ethnic, racial, religious and cultural identities and raises questions and dialogue around identity--the assumptions people make about each other, and how we see ourselves.