Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Youth of Arad

For many Americans, President Obama's inauguration was a special moment. It proved that who you are and what you strive for are far more important than race. To me, the theme "A New Birth of Freedom" was fitting and showed that everyone does have the freedom to reach his or her goals.

I watched Obama make his speech from a teen center in Arad called Tzelti. Tzelti is an afterschool center for Ethiopian teens-- a program of the Ethiopian National Project. As another American volunteer and I sat watching, completely glued to the screen, the teens came over to see what was so interesting. Although they knew of Obama and knew he had won, they didn't fully understand the importance to us.

We explained that history was being made. We told them that Obama's father had been an immigrant to the US. Obama had grown up a black man in a predominantly white nation. During his years living in Indonesia, he learned what it was like to feel different from the community around him. Despite the challenges, Obama succeeded and won the highest position in the nation.

We could see that what we said had an impact on the teenagers. They also were either immigrants themselves or their parents were immigrants to Israel and are growing up black in a predominantly white nation. In many cities, the Ethiopian community is detached from the outside community. The purpose of Tzelti is to provide an outlet for the teenagers to keep them out of trouble and help them succeed. As we all watched to speech together, I watched them understand the similarities between themselves and Obama. I saw them realize just how high they could reach.

The ENP Tzelti Youth Outreach Center in Arad is supported by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.