An outlet for the ENP's workers and volunteers to reflect on their experiences with the Ethiopian Israelis who have left home for the Promised Land and to demonstrate the impact of the Ethiopian National Project on their transition into Israeli life.
My name is Kara Bookbinder and I'm a new intern at ENP. This Monday I went out on my first "mission" with a group of 16 people from the Jewish Federations of North America, on a program called "Mission Possible." Being my first mission, I had no idea what to expect. I knew that we would be going to a YouthOutreachCenter in Beit Shemesh, and that we would meet some of the Ethiopian teens who benefit from the center, but that's all I knew. On the hour bus ride to the Center, I learned so many fascinating things about Ethiopian Jews and their struggle to make Aliyah. I had never before heard about Operation Moses or Operation Solomon which evacuated 8,000 and 14,000 Ethiopian Jews, respectively, from Ethiopia to Israel in the 1980's and 1990's. Upon hearing these stories I had a new found appreciation and curiosity about Ethiopian Jewry.
Once at the Center, we were broken into three groups, each with some participants and some Ethiopian teens, to play an ice breaker. We were all given a large playing card with a question on the back. We were to answer our question and then ask it to someone else in the group as a way to get to know each other a little better. Some questions were basic like, "Who's your favorite singer?" (to which one girl replied "Beyonce"), and some were deeper like, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I was most struck by one teen's answer to this question. She said that she was going to be a dancer, and she said it with such confidence and pride.
As someone who comes from a comfortable lifestyle, it is easy to take "safe spaces" for granted because they are generally readily available. For these teens, however, the concept of a safe space to learn, grow, and be social, did not exist before ENP created them; and safe spaces are essential for success in life. ENP is doing great things and I'm so happy to be making a difference by working with them.
Click below to visit our facebook page and see a picture from this mission!
It was such a wonderful day here in Israel. I am so excited to be able to share with you all my wonderful (and first) Sigd experience. For those of you who are not too familiar with Sigd, here is a link to their facebook page which gives a great overview http://www.facebook.com/pages/Sigd/138229019535354.
However here is a short sweet version of sigd:
Sigd is a Festival celebrated every year in honor of the mass pilgrimage to Jerusalem by the Ethiopian Jews. It is celebrated 50 days after Yom Kippur it is an essential part of the Ethiopian culture here Israel.
Now, to explain the beauty of it...well there are no words, but I will attempt. I was told that the festival would take place in Tapiyot, exactly the opposite of Mt Scopus (where I currently live). However exactly where in the Tapiyot I was not sure. I was certain to find out through random wondering and silly questioning and so I hopped on the bus and headed in that direction. I got off at the Ban Ilan Juntion and saw many ethiopians hanging around and walking in a certain direction. So, I did what any lost person would do, I followed the crowd. And wala, there I was in the middle of the festival with ethiopians from all over Israel enjoying the sun and taking part in the festivities of Sigd. There was singing, dancing, theatre and a lot of laughing from all who were there, and of course the traditions that also come with Sigd, praying, blessing and eating. Most were siting on the grass enjoying the surroundings and others were walking around to the varies informational tables of the ethiopian communities. It was a joyous festival with many friends present- which is always nice to see. I am so glad to be exposed to such a community and cant wait for the many more adventures that will come from them. :)
Shalom all beautiful people. My name is Breny Aceituno, I am the newest addition to the Ethiopian National Project and I am thrilled to be part of this project. Though my enthusiasm about interning for such an organization was apparent before, it was not until I had my first encounter with the community that really allowed me to see what a great project this is and how much I will learn from it. I was given the opportunity to visit the ENP youth Outreach Center in Petach Tikva
together with participants on the Jewish Federations of North America
"Mission Possible" trip to Israel here and there was no way I was going, and there was no way I was going to pass such an opportunity up, so as soon as I received the most pleasant email of invitation I contained my excitement and got ready for my new adventure.
Meeting Grace was my first impression of the whole project and it was a pleasure within itself. But it was while on the road to the outskirts of Jerusalem that I was able to hear about the organization’s aims and development so far. I will call this the theory of ENP. This theory basically states that a partnership with the Ethiopian communities will not only aid future generations of the Ethiopian communities to success in Israel but also aid Israel to gain success as a nation of many faces. A theory of mutual aid, perhaps. The practice of ENP, however, was getting to the site and seeing the community alive and moving; truly the beauty of the project. Kids running around, dancing, playing, singing, learning and simply being the beautiful Israel that the future holds. Both the theory and practice are gracefully executed by people like Grace and the rest of the ENP family and what’s more amazing is that the theory and practice of ENP do not seem to stray away or come into conflict, rather they are intertwined and cannot function with out one another. This became very clear to me when I spoke to the kids of Petach Tikva. All of them are very bright and according to the theory of ENP can achieve great success in Israel if given the right opportunities. Yet, their consciousness to the realities of Israel and its affect on the Ethiopian community is beyond amazing and it is what is most encouraged by the practice of ENP. From talks about sports to talks about racism and Politics around the world, the kids are very knowledgable and aware of their surroundings. And still, when they did not know of something, they were not afraid to ask and learn. This alone is enough to get such a project like ENP to develop and excell but the partnership that ENP has established with the Ethiopian communities is what will propel the Ethiopian community to become successful in Israel. I have no doubt in my mind that the children will be able to succeed if the opportunities are given to them and I am so happy to know that organizations like ENP are willing interact and partner with such communities so that this can be made possible. This visit was one that I will not forget and moreover it has truly left me with the feeling of great admiration. I look forward to the time I will spend interacting and working with such communities and I also hope I can learn to sing and dance like them too. :)
So far as treats in Israel go, I'm more than satisfied. Even if we were to completely dismiss the relationships I've built or the experiences I've had, I could still get a kick out of just the stuff. I love the rows of gummy bears (/worms/hearts/berries/etc.) that they sell outside the Central Bus Station. And it's absolutely killing me that I have to wait till Rosh Hashana to wear my new dress. And I'm getting good use out of the spool of blue thread I bought partly because I needed it and mostly because the storekeeper complimented my Hebrew.
But those gummies are lucky if they live to see morning. And I suppose there's always the slight chance that I'll grow out of that dress somewhere between ages 19 and 120. And with a couple hours spent crocheting on buses everyday, my remaining thread is hanging by a thread.
Here's what I can keep:
English assignments. Loads of them, scraps of paper written on by Ethiopian-Israeli girls spending every day of their summer wanting to learn more. The girls who'd struggle over concepts like present progressive until they were confident that they understood, and who still had the persistence left over to memorize both the English and Cameroonian Fang lyrics to Shakira's "Waka Waka." I see their accomplishments in the morning that they granted permission for me to speak English to them alongside Hebrew, as well as in each of their self-edited and re-edited class writing exercises. Which I won't lose.
From our Let's-Talk-About-Why-We're-Here assignment:
"Education is very important to me. I can connect with people in a proper way. So we will be better people, and so we can find what is special in people. The world will be better."
From our Future-Tense assignment:
"I hope that in the future it will be good. That I can succeed in all that I do, fly to a lot of places (like Argentine, the U.S., Ethiopia, and more), and meet people from outside Israel. And simply to enjoy life and think more about the present."
From our Heck-Yeah-you-Should-Ask-Your-Parents-How-they-Got-Here assignment:
"My parents grew up in Ethiopia and they helped the family grow animals: cows, roosters, dogs, horses, and more. Their parents introduced them at a young age and so they knew each other, and they made aliyah to Israel and lived in Haifa. In a house like a caravan, next to the sea and there they had my sister. And they moved to live in Kiryat Malachi and I was born there and the family continued there."
From our I'll-Tell-you-to-Write-About-Your-Interests-but-You'll-All-Cheat-and-Just-List-Famous-People assignment:
"I like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Eminem, Justin Timberlake…"
From our Subjunctive If-Then assignment:
"If Amir from the pizza store were my boyfriend, then I would eat pizza everyday.
"If Uri from school were my boyfriend, then I would ride his motorcycle."
From the Rosh Hashanah cards they gave me after class today:
"I wish you happy holiday new and I wish you really good luck on the future and happy and I want to say that you help me a lot and without I would not be good and you was my friend."
After about six weeks, tomorrow's our last day.
Here's what I know now:
1. If you don't push, you'll lose your seat on the hour-long bus to Kiryat Malachi. And then you'll probably fall on someone's face when the driver makes a sharp turn. Conclusion: Push. Pay. Sit.
2. Brush your hair in the morning. They will play with it, and tangles hurt.
3. The word for "refrigerator" in Hebrew is not "cold closet." But close enough.
4. If you dance to the Cupid Shuffle and the Cha-Cha Slide everyday for six weeks, these girls will never confuse their "right"s, "left"s, or "cha-cha-real-smooth"s.
5. Hold onto the scrap assignments that the girls write out in class. They're infinitely more special than gummy worms.
I’m Eliana and I absolutely love ENP! I’m from Nashville, Tennessee, I go to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and for two months this summer I’m lucky enough to be a Tucker Fellow volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project. I teach English in Kiryat Malachi (a small town about an hour from Jerusalem), and I get a kick out of it.
The girls I teach are 12 and 13 years old, and they’re participants in ENP’s Scholastic Assistance Program. That means that they’re eight of the 3,556 students throughout Israel who have ENP’s direct support in their academic lives. When they get distracted they can count on having an ENP worker on their back; when they want to go the extra mile they can end up with summer school and other supplementary programs. So here I am, with the summer school.
Work is a bit of an adventure, just about always. Even on the (comparatively) normal days I get back from Kiryat Malachi in the afternoon and just want to fall asleep on the sidewalk outside the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. (No, Mom. I don’t actually do that.)
Three weeks ago, I got the tiniest bit lost on the way to work. (Not because there’s anything wrong with my navigation skills of course).
There are three bus stops in Kiryat Malachi. I’m supposed to get off at the third and walk ten minutes to school. But the day before I had gotten off one stop too early, so it just made sense that when given the next opportunity I’d accidentally get off one stop too late. The bus left Kiryat Malachi, drove for quite a while, and then finally let me off waaaay down the highway.
Those weren’t my best two hours and forty-five minutes. I knew that the buses back to Kiryat Malachi were on the other side of the highway. I had a sneaking suspicion that highways are not meant to be crossed. I also figured that walking in the two-foot wide gap between speeding cars and the cement wall of the bridge was a bad idea. So I climbed down the bridge and landed in….
….a briar patch.
Daintily, of course.
(Because Dainty is my middle name, and because my dress and flip flops had been complaining for months that they never get to see enough wilderness action.)
It was unpleasant. There were a few miles between me and my students waiting impatiently in Kiryat Malachi. And I would’ve gotten there a whole lot sooner if I hadn’t gotten cut each time I took a step forward. (I think it may’ve been official Poor Judgment Day – once I had climbed down the bridge there really wasn’t any hope of extracting myself from the millions of evil thorns tearing me apart. Nor was there any end to my complete disgust with that darn Brer Rabbit, born and bred in the briar patch.)
But I persevered, as ENP volunteer English teachers must! (And really as most anyone must, if ever hoping to eat ice cream again or take a shower again or not get poked by thorns again.) By 1:15PM I made it to my 10:30AM class. And despite all my “seriously-guys,-go-home,-no,-really—I’m-IN-A-BRIAR-PATCH” phone calls, all eight girls were sitting around waiting for me. I taught them family/life-cycle vocabulary, they immediately employed it in near-identical “Dear Chris Brown (/Zac Efron/Justin Bieber/Yoni-of-the-Kiryat-Malachi-Pizza-Shop) Be my husband I will love you and our children” letters, we all left for home, I ate a popsicle, and the world got a whole lot better than it’d been back in the briar patch.
I do things well, too. Really. I’ve gone to Kiryat Malachi every weekday since then, without much more bodily harm. (Not counting general battery from assorted instances of tripping over myself and not counting a bee sting, because I’m relieved to finally know I’m not deathly allergic like that poor kid in A Taste of Blackberries).
The girls have to walk a pretty long while in the heat to learn grammar in the heat and I still don’t quite understand how they’d choose to do that every day of the summer. I originally figured they’d just feel guilty if they didn’t come when I was bussing myself out every day from Jerusalem. But they killed that hypothesis when Reut got upset over my strict let’s-take-shabbat-off policy and when Lior insisted that the one day I had to cancel class I could’ve dropped off my really sick boyfriend at a clinic in Kiryat Malachi instead of staying in Jerusalem.
I couldn’t’ve asked for a better job, briars and all. The girls want to be there, and that’s only one of the reasons why I’ve got all the respect in the world for them. These girls actually asked for ENP to find them a summer English teacher, and ENP did. They correct (and giggle over) my Hebrew conjugations, they reveal more than I ever thought to ask about Justin Bieber’s love life, and they surprise me every day with their determination to conquer the quirky parts of English. I absolutely cannot wait to see what these girls teach me next.
English Class Ice Cream Trip (Shachar's 13th Birthday)
The ENP experiences continue to move this blogger to share. About a week ago (forgive the lapse in time once more, what else can you do when your computer goes up in smoke?), I had my second mission trip with ENP. Another unique experience indeed. At the CC and CD Mission, we had visitors from various federations in the United States come to visit the homes of some of the students that participate in ENP sponsored activities.
I will spare you details about how the day was humid and sticky, how great the tuna sandwiches were and how a cat stole one of said tuna sandwiches because, frankly, this was all overshadowed by the success of the visit in which I participated. I was part of one of the sixteen simultaneous home visits that took place that day. The bus took us to Lod, a city located in the heart of Israel, but poor in resources and struggling to stabilize the city's infrastructure. Here, 43.3% percent of residents find themselves earning a minimum salary or less and only 46.5% of twelfth graders qualify for matriculation certificates. We had not even finished getting off of the bus when a friendly man approached us, grinning widely and his hand already extended to greet us. He led us up the elevator and to the home, where once more, inviting grins, extended hands and a bowl of small pretzels awaited.
We listened to the family's story intently as the hosts handed us glasses of cold water. The story was more quenching to us than the cold water. It was a story entangled with struggle, endurance and love. When the child began to share her story of her involvement in ENP, hope and perseverance rang in the room. A couple of details stand out.
The father directed his attention to the donors and shared, "If it was not for your support, my daughter would not be able to get the assistance that has gotten her this far. I want all of my children to be able to participate in the Scholastic Assistance Programs." This came after she shared that she passed her level 4 Matriculation Exam in Science due to ENP's Scholastic Assistance Program.
"I want to be an engineer and I know that ENP will help me get there," she said.
I wish I had the words to describe the sincerity in the family's voice and the gratefulness that they exuded. At the end of our visit, the group began taking pictures with the host family expressing that they wanted to be able to remember people that had inspired them. As I got in the elevator with of few of these visitors, I asked, "What did you think of the experience?" One of the women looked right at me and said, "I had Goosebumps the entire time that they were talking." I am assuming that means that she enjoyed it. I could overhear how everyone had discussed their experiences on the bus ride back to our meeting point in Beit Shemesh. Among the chatter, my thoughts slowly drifted back to the future engineer and once more made me excited about the multiple stories that I have yet to hear.
Last night, we began our “caravan camp” with a blast, literary, as we launched rockets into the night sky at Ethiopian National Project’s (ENP) Gadera Youth Centre (don’t worry these rockets where of the innocent variety intended only to teach the kids about aerodynamics, friction, gravity etc.)
This was the first day of a two week travelling camp where a group of volunteers from all over the world (our group includes volunteers from America, Israel, Australia, South Africa, Poland and Uruguay) will be travelling to ENP’s various Youth Centres to run camp-like activities for the Ethiopian Youth. Our activities include science experiments, animation workshops, teamwork and empowerment exercises, public speaking lessons, yoga and whatever else we come up with along the way.
The idea of holding a Summer Camp for Ethiopian youth originated with a group of MA students at Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School. One of the students, an Ethiopian man who lives in an Ethiopian Absorption centre recognised the need over the long summer months to put together activities for the teenagers who had little to do and where getting themselves into trouble out of sheer boredom. Based on his experience in running a camp last year they decided this year to put together a full three week summer camp for these youth. Unfortunately, a bunch of bureaucratic and political obstacles meant that this was not to be and so at the 11th hour we contacted Grace Rodnitzkifrom the ENP who graciously accepted our volunteers. Since ENP no longer has a youth centre in Jerusalem (this was closed recently due to lack of funding) we altered our plan and instead of working daily with the same kids, a new idea was born our travelling or “caravan camp.”
If yesterday was anything to go by the next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun. Sunday night in the Gadera Centre is a "לילה לבן , “a white night” the Israeli way of saying an “all night stay awake” where activities begin at 7:30pm and go on until 2 in the morning. Not surprisingly, the one staff member Mentamer and Israeli soldiers who work there were very excited to have us entertaining the kids, at least for the first few hours. After playing some name games and having the kids guess where we were all from (the fact that I’m the whitest person in the room and am also from Africa usually causes quite a reaction) we began with the rocket making. The kids were explained a little bit about the aerodynamics of the rockets and then set to work building their own rockets out of plastic bottles and cardboards which we then launched into the air with a home-made rocket launcher made from PVC pipes, cable ties and a bicycle pump.
However it was not only the kids that learned new things in the rocket making process, we were able to practise (and be corrected on) our Hebrew which also proved highly entertaining, especially after I walked around the area handing out scissors “"מספריים shouting “מי רוצה משקפיים” “Who needs glasses” and then when I saw the kids laughing, correcting myself to “מי רוצה מכנסיים” “who needs pants”- Eventually finding the correct word, I guess the evening was a learning experience for us all and I am confident I will NEVER forget the word for scissors ever again!
ENP’s Youth Outreach Center in Gedera is supported by UJA-Federation of New York
Shalom, my name is Linda Castillo and I am the newest addition to the wonderful ENP blog. I am a study abroad student at HebrewUniversity's RothbergInternationalSchool from the University of Pennsylvania. I will be starting my fourth, and final, year of college in the fall. I arrived in Israel with the intention of staying for one semester, approximately four months. Faced with the bitter idea that I would have to leave Israel, I decided to extend my stay for one year. I hope to volunteer with ENP for the rest of my stay.
It has been a couple of weeks since my first mission with ENP which took place in Beit Shemesh. To most, the idea of a post about an experience that occurred "that long ago" may seem daunting. However, the impression it made is long lived and fresh. It was my first mission, and actually, my first time volunteering with ENP. I had already read the 5 Year Report on ENP's work, browsed through the site and received a general idea of what ENP does. However, when I arrived with the ENP team, I must admit that nothing I had read did justice to ENP's work.
When the group of visiting Rabbis arrived, we watched an introductory video about the problems that Ethiopians face and are struggling to solve. I was in shock at my own lack of knowledge and understanding on the subject. During the video, it was interesting to see other jaws drop as we all learned about the topic together.
After the video Michelle, the International Relations Coordinator led everyone through an exercise about how the leaders of a community come together to consolidate their thoughts and decide where funding should be allocated. Difficult indeed.
The most heart moving part of the night was hearing first hand from someone who had benefited from ENP’s work. Efrat Mekonen shared her amazing story of her journey to Israel, including unbelievable miracles that made my skin line up with goose-bumps. I even noticed that some of the visitors pulled out handkerchiefs and shyly tapped away their tears. Efrat serves her community as an Ethiopian-Israeli lay leader in Beit Shemesh. She has participated in the ENP Community Empowerment program in Beit Shemesh supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. It was moving to listen to her explain that her political activism and her strong will stemmed, in part from ENP’s work – an organization in which I now participated.
At the end of the mission, an Ethiopian Rabbi gave his personal story and shared the differences between Ethiopian Jewry and what many people would call "mainstream" Jewry. I was fascinated by his words. He made Aliyah 12 1/2 years ago and studied at a Yeshiva school and then attained a college education. It was the first time that I heard a first hand account of how a person bridges the gap between the traditions taught in Ethiopia and a Yeshiva teaching here. His wisdom seemed well though out:
"Bridging the gap came with time. I just decided to be as religious as I want to be in my home and participate outside of my home just enough to bring the community together through our traditions."
As I look back to my first time volunteering with ENP, I cannot help but grin. I remember thinking that night, I too am now a part of a movement of empowerment, of change, of active participants. The mission added a personal component to my newfound volunteering experience. I cannot wait to see what other members of the Ethiopian community have to share with me. I cannot wait to learn and to see the development of a community.
Wow what a day! It was very exciting to go on The Mission Possible Tucson (Young Women Federation Leadership) mission visit to the Ulpanat Mevasseret School in Hadera this afternoon. Being it was my first week at the ENP as well as my first week in Israel needless to say, I was not totally sure what to expect. It was awesome! When we arrived at the school we were greeted with so much excitement from the staff as well as the girls. I was very impressed with the school. The girls all spoke English very well and it was a breath of fresh air to see kids with a real hunger for learning. The girls were not shy whatsoever, and there was no shortage of questions about life in America, many of them having to do with pop culture. I never thought I could have so much in common with these girls! They were all so intelligent, we talked about everything from music to geography of the US. After talking to the girls I got to hear some of their stories as well as their dreams for the future. They all have set very high goals for themselves and after spending time with them I have no doubt they will be reached. I can see that with the help of the programs from the ENP it will help make the dreams come true. The after school programs that are in place for these kids really does give them the help they need to reach their full potential. It was also very cool because I go to hear personal stories from three girls who are now out of high school and who participated in the ENP. They felt that they benefited from the programs so much that they are donating a year to volunteering with the ENP before they go to the army. After visiting with the girls for a while it was time to introduce them to a ladies group from Arizona that support the ENP.
It was so special to be able to see a group of ladies from America get to experience what the ENP does first hand. As well as get to meet some of the girls that benefit from the programs they support. I think the ladies all had a wonderful time. There was so much energy in the room! We all played a getting to know you game and got to learn about each other. It was so nice for the girls, as well as the ladies to be able to learn from one another. The ladies also got to sit with the older girls and hear their stories, and future plans. What a great afternoon of stories and getting to know one another, After today it is safe for me to say that I know what to expect when working with the Ethiopian-Israeli youth… a wonderful day.
The ENP Scholastic Assistance in Hadera is supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte and the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle TN
ENP recently hosted the Flint Jewish Federation Civic Leadership Interfaith Mission at the Gedera Youth Outreach Center (funded by the UJA Federation of New York) and I had an opportunity to participate in this visit. The ENP Mission visits brings groups from Canada, the US, the United Kingdom and abroad to get a first hand look at the work of ENP for the Ethiopian Israeli community.
During the visit to the youth center the Flint Interfaith Mission heard from Dr. Negist Mengesha, Director General of ENP and Micha Feldman about the need for youth centers and other social services for Ethiopian Israelis throughout Israel. Micha played a major role in the miraculous rescue of Ethiopian Jews and aliyah to Israel through Operation Moses and Solomon and the group were fascinated by his stories of Ethiopian Jewry's struggles. The group also had the opportunity to learn a traditional Ethiopian dance and meet with the kids from youth center. Many of the Ethiopian teenagers use The Gedera Youth Center as a place to study for matriculation exams, use the on site computers or just to relax.
Common world bonds were discussed such as Facebook, YouTube, and love of Ethiopian food by the Americans and Israelis. The group also discussed their thoughts on Israel today, their studies, hopes and dreams for the future and why they attend the youth center.
Esther – "I want to become an architect and I have to prepare for the matriculation exams and to apply for scholarships. I come to the youth center to study with tutors and use the computers to learn, write papers and apply for scholastic programs. Some of the younger kids use the computers for games or chatting with friends. Without the Youth Center I don’t know where I would go to prepare for my studies.
Yael – "Before exams, there are school marathons at the youth center. This helps the kids to achieve better grades. The activities at the youth center are very similar to scouts activities. For example, the older kids lead the young kids in certain projects."
Sara – “My mother cleans hospitals and my father is a gardener. A lot of my family still lives in Ethiopia. My family has visited me from Ethiopia, but I have never been there. At ENP, I am a member of a theatre group at the youth center and I am interested in music. Last year, the theater group performed for Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
During my visit to the youth center, I was particularly impressed by a group of Ethiopian-Israelis community volunteers who want to share their experiences of growing up as a olah chadasha (new immigrant) and to be an inspiration to the younger generation. A major problem in the Ethiopian Israeli community is a lack of self confidence and self worth. These role models serve as mentors and friends to the youth center participants and are crucial to ENP's mission to serve as a support system for the kids with any emotional, educational or social problems that may occur within their lives.
Shira – "When I first arrived from Ethiopia in the 80's, I was in a new country, did not know the language and was only one of a handful of Ethiopian kids in my school. I had very low self confidence, my studies had suffered and I was not succeeding in my transition in Israel. Once I started to respect myself and improve my self confidence I made new friends and had an easier time in school. I want to teach my fellow Ethiopian Israeli youth to love and respect themselves and good things will happen. ENP is making this a reality with the Ethiopian Israeli youth of today."
It's Diane again reporting live from ENP! Today, I'll be talking about my first time volunteering at the Youth Center in Gedera as well as a "mission" at the Rehovot Youth Center (I will explain "mission" in a bit...).
On Tuesday May 11, I made my way from Jerusalem to the city of Gedera to volunteer with the Ethiopian-Israeli youth. It was my first time coming in to volunteer at Gedera and I was pretty excited. All in all, I had a great time at Gedera. When I arrived, I met four soldiers who were also volunteering at the youth center. They introduced themselves to me and gave me a grand tour of the center. There was a room where one soldier was giving math lessons to a group of students. In another room, there were kids watching TV and playing pool. Then, there was the computer room! (my favorite room). This was a popular room for the kids. They were listening to music videos, playing online computer games, and chatting online with their friends. I found out that the some of the favorite music artists of the girls there were Chris Brown and Justin Bieber (if you don't know who these people are, you need to get up-to-date with your pop culture!!). It was a very social and friendly environment.
Now...onto the "mission" at Rehovot: rewinding back to Thursday May 6, 2010
First of all, "missions" are groups of donors, potential donors, and/or supporters from Jewish communities in the US who come to visit ENP projects. In the late afternoon on a Thursday about 40 Americans from all over the US came to visit the Youth Outreach Center in Rehovot. My job at this event was to take pictures and record what was going on. Shortly after the group arrived, everyone participated in a traditional Ethiopian dance lesson. Everyone made a big circle and Dega, the dance instructor, stood in the middle. Every once in a while she would pull a few brave people into the middle of the circle so that they could "show off" their dance moves. At first, most of the people that went into the middle seemed a little embarrassed, but after they showed off their dance moves, everyone returning from the middle had a big smile on their face.
Afterward, everyone broke up into three groups so that the American visitors could talk one-on-one with the Ethiopian-Israeli youth. Below is one of the questions that I observed being asked to the Ethiopian-Israeli youth by an American visitor: Question: "What kind of experience have the Ethiopian Jews had since coming to Israel?” Answer: "Sometimes there are racist people that make it hard for us, but in general it is okay. This is a fulfillment of our parents’ dream."
At the very end of the mission, a choir made up of 4 girls from the ENP youth center sang for everyone. The girls in the choir wrote their own lyrics to the song. The song is about a girl who is trying to reach a dream, and in the end finally does.
That's it for today, over and out! And I hope everyone had a great Shavuot! :)
So, for my first blog post, I will be writing about a recent phone interview I had about an Ethiopian-Israeli student volunteer project in Lod. I interviewed this really nice woman named Billie, who helped coordinate the volunteer project and help the staff and kids work together.
The volunteer project took place on March 24, 2010. Ethiopian-Israeli youth from ENP fixed up various Ethiopian communities within Lod. Students from grades 7-10, aged 13-16 volunteered in Lod. They helped to paint, clean, and organize areas that were in poor condition.
In one location, the Ethiopian-Israeli youth painted all kinds of private homes within an Ethiopian community in Lod. These were houses in which older people lived who could not afford to paint their own houses. According to Billie, the kids painted around 21 or 22 homes!
In another Ethiopian neighborhood located in Ramat Eshkol in Lod, the kids painted the entire inside of a building. They youth not only painted the walls, but wrote inspirational sentences on them such as: “Be real. Start a dream”.
Billie added that the kids were very interested in this volunteer project. Originally, the staff was worried about their motivation – getting up early to work and clean isn’t an easy task for any teenager. However, Billie noted, “We were really surprised. It was really touching to see all the kids committed to the mission. It was nice to see that at the end of the day they contributed something – to see after a day that the location that you see in the morning that was dirty and in a bad situation …looked different because the children worked. It made them feel really proud.”
As you can see, this volunteer project with the Ethiopian-Israeli youth at ENP was a huge success! It was one of the biggest youth volunteer projects that ENP has ever done.
That’s it for today, but I hope to blog again soon about more news at ENP!
On Tuesday I went to the Moadon No'ar (youth center) in Petach Tikva. Well, to say I "went" might be a little optimistic. Due to some miscommunication, I didn't actually make it there. However, my peregrinations proved productive. (Say that ten times fast!) You learn a lot from wandering about, asking people for directions. Here is what I learned:
-The Israeli stereotype is true: though Israelis may seem brusque, they will knock themselves out to make sure you get where you need to be.
-Case in point: after an embarrassingly long time spent circling Petach Tikva, I came upon a very sweet couple who took personal offense at the fact that I was lost. They checked their GPS for directions. They called their friends. They Googled. (iPhones are wonderful things--you can surf the Internet from a deserted parking lot!) Finally, when it became clear I wasn't going to find this center, they checked bus times back to Jerusalem and drove me to the nearest bus stop. I didn't know their names or anything about them, but they went out of their way to get me to where I needed to be.
This got me thinking about the concept of "paying it forward." (Yes, like the corny movie.) I had done nothing to deserve this random act of kindness except be there. And though I didn't make it to the youth center, I felt--oddly enough--motivated to do more the next time I go to Bet Shemesh. ENP is such a worthwhile organization, and despite the momentary frustration I experienced this Tuesday, I am even more committed to "paying it forward" at the next available opportunity. I'm not sure how this will play out--whether it's tutoring an eighth grader in English or just playing a game of pool with a student, I want to do the best job I can for these kids, just because they're there.
Adi again, reporting back from the trenches of the Beit Shemesh Youth Center. The center was relatively quiet this Tuesday; half the kids who usually come were on a school trip, and a significant minority were at a town-wide cultural event called "the shuuk," which to me sounded more like a street fair than an open-air market. Hailu, the center's director, explained that students go to the shuuk both to hang out and to help their parents, many of whom man stalls or booths.
There were two girls at the center this week, one of whom (let's call her "Devorah") solicited my help with her English homework. She didn't have any of her school things with her, but promised to bring a week's worth of homework next Tuesday; I'm excited for our study date. I think I will call Hailu on Monday and ask him to remind her--I actually miss English homework!
I had a tiny mission to carry out on Tuesday, which totally failed. An extremely mature and giving girl in the States has made ENP her Bat Mitzvah charity, and requested that all her Bat Mitzvah gifts go to us. I was supposed to film the kids saying Mazal Tov and Thank You so she could feel the personal impact of her (wonderful) choices--but none of them were interested. Maybe it's because I'm new and they don't feel comfortable "performing" (in a sense) in front of someone they don't know. Or maybe it's just that they're normal thirteen-year-olds who aren't totally comfortable in their own skins--I certainly hated being photographed when I was a teenager. Whatever it is, I'm a little disappointed about the lack of enthusiasm, though I understand it.
I spent a good amount of time talking to Hailu about his vision for the center; he showed me a bunch of lesson plans about cultural identity, Ethiopian history, Amharic...really impressive stuff that the kids will definitely appreciate. (I tried my best to learn an Amharic proverb about the importance of patience, but I've forgotten it now. What a beautiful language--it sounds rich and evocative, even when I don't know what's being said.) He also told me a little bit about his background, which was fascinating. One of the best things about going to the center is the personal interactions and stories that I hear; the kids aren't particularly forthcoming, but sometimes they'll share bits and pieces of their stories, for which I'm grateful.
That's all for this week. I'll update again next week; hopefully my English tutoring will have yielded some fruit!
I’m Adi, a new ENP volunteer who will be blogging about my time in the Beit Shemesh youth center once weekly. I recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland—in fact, Baltimore is both my inspiration for volunteering with ENP, and my paradigm for what it means to work with an underserved community. Three and a half years living in Charles Village—located a hop, skip, and a jump away from urban neighborhoods that inspired the emotionally gripping and highly disturbing HBO cult hit, The Wire—impelled me to seek out a similar experience for my five months in Israel. I’ve been teaching English and Language Arts to Baltimore City Public School kids since my sophomore year, and firmly believe that English literacy is one of the most important tools for/indicators of future academic and professional success, in any country.
Hence: armed with goodwill, some teaching experience, and…well, little else but jumpy nerves, I venture to the Bet Shemesh youth center where I plan to teach English, mentally steeling myself for Dangerous Minds-style pandemonium. The statistics are disheartening: roughly 20% of Ethiopian men aged 18-35 are unemployed, and 68% of the community lives below the poverty line. This particular youth center has been open for less than a month, but has already attracted a sizeable crowd of high school boys, who arrive promptly at five and stay until the center closes at nine.
Hailu, the youth center’s new director, arrives at twenty to five, and I can see right away that despite the center’s informal hang-out vibe, he exerts a strong and positive influence. Though he greets the boys with high fives-—like a friend-—he is also firm with them, admonishing them gently when they get too rowdy. He steers me around the room introducing me to clusters of boys. One boy, a seventeen-year-old who I will call Avi, takes a shine to me and patiently answers my questions about life as an Ethiopian immigrant. When I’m done with my gentle inquisition, he turns the tables on me, asking about my university experience (the words “best years of my life” may have been uttered—I’ve officially turned into an Old Person), life in America, and—as I half-expected—the state of the African-American community there.
"Avi" is the most outgoing of the kids in the center; the rest are busy playing foosball or pool. I’m content just to hang out, posing as an anthropological oddity—The American Jew—answering questions about America and why Jews continue living there despite the miracle of our very own (snow-free) homeland. Avi especially was concerned, grilling me about my Zionist credentials: “but why don’t you live here?” Despite the American rap blasting from their mp3 players, the boys are unimpressed with the US; numerous times, I was asked “what does America have that we don’t?”, a good question that I can’t answer comfortably or easily. Mostly, I was impressed with the hardcore patriotism the boys evinced; despite the mistakes—to put it kindly—of the Israeli government and society, Ethiopian immigrants still see the country both as home and Homeland (small h for familiarity, everyday life, big H for the two-thousand-year-old dream, nurtured despite millennia of isolation.)
Okay, Internet! That’s all from the front. Over and out until Tuesday!