Monday, May 24, 2010

The Flint Jewish Federation Civic Leadership Interfaith Mission Visits the Gedera Youth Outreach Center

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."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Adventures to Gedera and Rehovot!

Hey Everyone,

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! :)