Jerusalem, Israel - May 31, 2016 - Jerusalem U, a producer of film-based educational programs about Israel and Judaism, hosted the Israel premiere of their newest film, Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew, on Monday night, May 30, at Yes Planet Jerusalem.  

The 40-minute documentary film tells the true and inspiring story of Mekonen Abebe. From his early years, as a 5 year-old shepherd in Ethiopia, Mekonen overcame serious financial and familial hardships to realize his dream of becoming an officer in the Israel Defense Forces. 

The Abebe family and others walked from their village to Gandor, with the dream of reaching Jerusalem. After waiting for eight years in in squalor conditions in Gandor, Mekonen's father died of a heart attack, 12 hours before they were to take the flight to Israel and was buried in Ethiopia.

Mekonen is a follow-up to Jerusalem U’s, Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front (2014), a film following five IDF recruits through their army training. “After nearly every screening of Beneath the Helmet, the audiences had burning questions about Abebe.  They connected with him and wanted to know more about where he came from and how the next chapter of his story would unfold,” said Rebecca Shore, Jerusalem U’s Creative Director and the Director of Mekonen. As soon as Mekonen started officers school, Shore and her husband Rabbi Raphael Shore began plans for this powerful film.

Though shy and introverted at the beginning of Beneath the Helmet, Mekonen was posing for photos and on the stage after this premier screening, singing and dancing with the Israeli hip-hop band Cafe Shahor Hazak. 

The screening event was exclusive to gap-year students, with separate seating in the theater. Throughout the school year, more than 500 students on 20 gap-year programs took part in ‘JU Israel Gap Year." Once a week, professionals met with the students, to better prepare them to face challenges of growing antisemitism and anti-Israel activity on US college campuses.

Other organizations, including StandWithUs, Camera and Hillel worked together on this supplementary programming. Ben & Jerry's ice cream and sweet tables added to the atmosphere at this unique and amazing end of year event.

Included in the photo essay with Mekonen, are Rabbi Raphael and Rebecca Shore, men who were soldiers with Mekonen in first film, and former Baltimoreans: Elie Klein of Finn Partners, and Maayan Jaffee Hoffman.