Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ethiopian Youth in Gedera and Ramla

Everyday, Ethiopian students in Gedera get out of class in the early afternoon, and face the task of occupying themselves. At a loss for productive programming, some have chosen the less respectable road. However, thanks to ENP, there's the מרכז נוער, Youth Center, that opens at 4pm, and offers a spacious gaming room with a pool table and lounge chairs, a computer room where children can play computer games and browse, as well as athletic programs. The Center gets 100-130 students each day. I had conversations with a ninth grader and a twelfth grader, who described the social situation in the area, and the success of the Youth Center in keeping children off the streets. Also, twice a week Scholastic Assistance classed are offered to help students with homework. They also discussed a youth leadership program where some of the children can develop programming ideas and then apply for funding and make their dreams realities.

The ENP Field Coordinator was very helpful in introducing me to the students and helping me get a feel for the programming provided, as well as the impact it's had on the community. After Gedera, we traveled to the ENP Student Center in Ramla. There were only a few students there when I arrived, and they said that the larger crowds come a little later in the evening. Nevertheless, they also expressed the sense of belonging they had to the place, since it was a wonderful and safe location where they could relax and enjoy time with friends.

The Ethiopian-Israeli Community of Gedera is supported by the UJA-Federation of New York.

The Ethiopian-Israeli Community of Ramla is supported by the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bri'ut in Beit Shemesh בריאות בבית שמש

This was my first experience in an Ethiopian-Israeli community. I arranged to meet the ENP Field Coordinator at the local Community Center in Beit Shemesh, and once I arrived I discovered that there was going to be a meeting with the parents in the community. Seeing the parents reflected just how distinctive this culture is from others in Israel. Tattoos on the forehead and jaw were common, and many men and woman had traditional garb, such as intricately designed shawls. All the women had covered heads, and the men either wore Jewish kippot or sports caps.

Amharic was spoken language in the circles of adults prior to the event, but I had a short conversation with one mother in Hebrew. She had moved to Israel three years ago, and had learned Hebrew from her son, who was now fifteen years old and studying at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem. She did not know how to write Hebrew, though, and relied on her children for help.

The ceremony itself was a meeting with the leaders of the community, who discussed the children's programs that are offered and funded by the Ethiopian National Project. Following this, there was a special lecture by an Ethiopian-Israeli doctor on health concerns and hygiene. The entire event was in Amharic, but some of the coordinators translated for me. I learned that there were about 330 children under the age of six, in a community of about 650 families. The leaders explained how the cost of each child is very high, and the money raised by ENP is all non-profit and applied to programs, such as scholastic assistance, and aid for the residents. As for the Doctor's lecture, I found it refreshing to sit through a Powerpoint presentation in an foreign language. There were even diagrams of lice on the slides, with details in Amharic. Through the entirety of the ceremony and lecture, I learned only one word in Amharic: "gasha," the equivalent of "Mister."

This was only my first experience visiting the communities, but it really opened my eyes to the challenges that facing the community, from the perspectives of economy and safety. The leaders make due with what they have, but they can certainly use more aid, to occupy the children and provide activities for the children and families.

The Ethiopian-Israeli Community in Bet Shemesh is supported by the Jewish Federation of Washington, and its United Jewish Endowment Fund.