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Meskie Shibru, the First Professional Ethiopian Actress in Israel, is Born

September 29, 1967

On September 29, 1967, Meskie Shibru was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After immigrating to Israel at eighteen to escape persecution, she became the country’s first Ethiopian actress.

Growing up in Addis Ababa, Shibru was generally unaware of the dangers facing Ethiopian Jewry. Her family often hosted Ethiopian Jews fleeing rural villages on their way to Israel, but only later in life did Shibru realize that her mother was working for the Zionist underground. Shibru attended a diverse school with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students, but she recalls tension in Addis Ababa between Christians and Jews.

In 1985, at the age of eighteen and shortly after finishing high school, Shibru moved to Israel via Egypt. She was sent by the Israeli government to Kibbutz Beerot Yitzchak and “adopted” by a Holocaust survivor couple with no children of their own. She was pressured to change her name from Meskie (meaning Tishrei, a name given to her because she was born on Rosh Hashanah) to Keren, but she refused. Shibru studied in an ulpan (intensive Hebrew language program) and was assigned to mentor Ethiopian youth in Haifa, which she did for one year.

In 1987, Shibru’s mother was imprisoned in Ethiopia as a Prisoner of Zion, a term used to describe Jews who were imprisoned for “Zionist activities” in countries hostile to the state of Israel. Two years into her sentence, Israel intervened. Today, Shibru’s parents and all of her siblings live in Israel.

Shibru knew she wanted to be an actress from a young age. Despite being discouraged from pursuing acting because she is Black and rejected from acting schools because of her accent, she was undeterred. She was finally accepted to the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio in Tel Aviv, where her training enabled her to become the first professional Ethiopian actress in Israel. She has played numerous roles, on both the stage and the big screen, including appearing as herself in Israel’s version of Sesame Street (Rechov Sumsum in Hebrew and Shara’a Simsim in Arabic), Tzachi in Betoolot (2014), and Miri Tagania in Hatachana (2020).

Shibru has also been a member of delegations with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Keren Hayesod (United Israel Appeal) around the world. She founded a theater school for children and teenagers in Rishon LeZiyyon, has won four acting prizes, and published two books. The second book, Anika, is a semi-autobiographical novel whose title is meant to evoke the words Ani Kan (I am here).

Shibru has two children, Eden Zohar Sivan and Roi Shibru Sivan, with her ex-husband Elad Sivan. Since their divorce in 2010, Shibru has begun to observe halakhah (Jewish law), but she is adamant that everyone, including her children, should practice Judaism in whatever way is meaningful for them.



שאלה ותשובה [Questions and Answer). 2022. Season 2, Episode 8, “מסקי ובובי” [Meskie and Bobby]. Aired January 7, 2022 on Kan. https://www.kan.org.il/item/?itemid=119987.

“First Ethiopian actress in Israel makes her voice heard.” May 4, 2015. Video, 3:19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfAZn3voCyQ.

Itzkovich, Avi. “‘מסקי שיברו חושפת בספרה החדש: ’מה שכתבתי זה כלום לעומת מה שעברתי באמת” [Meskie Shibru reveals in her new book: ‘What I wrote is nothing compared to what I really went through.’” Mynet, February 1, 2021. https://rishon.mynet.co.il/local_news/article/SkBXo0RJd.

Gross, Shelly. “בית ספר לאופנה: מסקי שיברו מתלבשת ייצוגי, אבל פאן” [School of Fashion: Meskie Shibru dresses classically, but fun]. Ynet, March 21, 2022. https://www.ynet.co.il/laisha/article/r1mjagbm5.

Shayer, Chezzy. “לחופש נולדו” [For Freedom We’re Born]. Ynet, April 3, 2021. https://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-2578514,00.html.

Ishim. “מסקי שיברו סיון” [Meskie Shibru Sivan]. Accessed June 28, 2022. https://www.ishim.co.il/p.php?s=%D7%9E%D7%A1%D7%A7%D7%99+%D7%A9%D7%99%D7%91%D7%A8%D7%95+%D7%A1%D7%99%D7%95%D7%9F.



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Ethiopian-Israeli actress Meskie Shibru, c. 1995. Photograph by Nachoom Assis. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Meskie Shibru, the First Professional Ethiopian Actress in Israel, is Born." (Viewed on March 24, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/29/1967/meskie-shibru-first-professional-ethiopian-actress-israel-born>.


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