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The Coffee Goats of Ethiopia

This week’s Yahel participant blog post comes from Zoe Thrumston, one of the participants on this year’s Yahel Social Change Program. This group is living, learning and volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion for 9 months this year. You can find the original post on Zoe’s personal blog.

Ethiopian culture is super-duper hospitable. One tradition that perfectly exemplifies this hospitality is the Buna (Amharic for coffee) ceremony, which was brought to Israel by the wave of Ethiopian immigrants in the 80’s & 90’s. It is the main social event in the Ethiopian village, and it happens three times a day (morning, noon, night). Ethiopian Jews employ Buna at the end of Shabbat, to wake up for the rest of the week (Buna becomes an Ethiopian version of Havdalah). The most important part of the ceremony is to drink three cups (Abol, Tona, and Baraka)—by the third cup, you have received the blessing of your host (“Baraka” means blessing in Amharic, Hebrew, and Arabic).

The word “coffee” is believed to come from the word Kaffa, which is the region in Ethiopia that the bean originally came from. Another word origin story is that it comes from the Arabic qahwa which means to give strength. But for this story’s purposes we’re going with the first one.

Khaldi and his dancing coffee goats on the best day ever.

According to legend, the coffee bean grows wild in the forest hills of Ethiopia, and was discovered by a herd of goats. The goats went crazy hyper and started dancing on their hind legs, and their shepherd, Khaldi, took the coffee beans home to his wife, who took the beans to the village monks. The monks decided that the beans were sinful and tossed them into the fire. Later, some other monks crushed the beans, raked them out of the fire, and distilled the powder in boiling water. The wonderful smell filled the monastery, so the monks gave the drink a chance. They found that the coffee allowed them to stay up all night with renewed energy for prayer and studies, so they changed their minds about how sinful it was. And now everyone in Ethiopia loves coffee because it’s the best and those original goats should get all the credit for me staying awake long enough to write this blog post. A++, coffee goats!

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