Directed by Malka Shabtay, ‘Nafkot – Yearning’ is a feature length documentary that explores the challenges facing the hidden Jewish community of Ethiopia. Shabtay, a veteran anthropologist, braves the rough terrain and foriegn culture of a far-off land in order to document how this community continues to survive despite tall odds. With a young artisan along for the ride, Shabtay interviews several members of the hidden tribe, explores their rituals and analyzes the bond these ancient people have with the State of Israel.


Travelling the rural roads and communities in Ethiopia must have been no easy task and kudos to Shabtay for succeeding in documenting the intricacies of a hidden community so well despite the massive logistical challenges involved. Shabtay takes the audience on a magical journey, one that starts from the pebbled streets of Addis Ababa into green valleys far away in the mountains. As she interacts with elders and visits the community’s off-limits holy sites, Shabtay cannot help but feel her faith reinvigorating. Along for the ride is a young artisans from Addis Ababa, who also yearns to reconnect with his Jewish roots.


There is much to unpack in the documentary; from the societal boycott of the Jews that continues to this day to their unique customs that have fascinated anthropologists for decades. Shabtay carefully examines the community’s present condition in light of their historical past as followers of one of the world’s oldest religions brave communal violence, religious persecution, economic boycott and a myriad of other threats in order to survive. Packed with so much rare information, the 70 minute documentary whizzes by in a breeze. The editing and narrative momentum are top notch as Shabtay’s voice-over drops in from time to time to fill in any gaps in information that viewers might notice. The handheld cinematography lends further credence to the already great spectacle and one cannot help but notice that the documentary is authentic, emotional, moving and fascinating; all in one.


‘Nafkot – Yearning’ is therefore a rare gem that sheds light on a subject rarely explored in traditional media. With Ethiopian Jews existing in Africa for thousands of years, the documentary is a labour of love that not only introduces audiences to these historical people but also takes us into the inner workings of a hidden community that few outsiders have access to. Malka Shabtay has, therefore, made a poignant documentary that not only succeeds in more ways than one but can comfortably sit amongst some of the best documentaries we’ve seen this year.