Monday, July 9, 2012

Sheba's ENP Blog #1: In Beersheva with Keren Hayesod Young Leaders

My first taste of fieldwork with the Ethiopian National Project was a mission in the southern city of Beer Sheva. Grace had given me an introduction to the transforming work done at these centers, and I was hoping a mission experience would provide me a deeper understanding of the outreach program and the individuals it empowers. Upon arrival, we were greeted with open arms by the center's directors and ENP leaders. Their warmth was so overwhelming that language was no barrier in communication; the excitement and hope was evident in the faces of the center's leaders and youth awaiting our arrival. A large group of community leaders across the world were scheduled to visit the center and experience the impact of ENP's youth programs on a grassroots level. The group was brought to the Beer Sheva center to represent Karen Hayesod and the future leaders of Jewish communities across the world. They arrived with an exciting energy, eager to learn about the people and the center's work. The mission began with an introduction from a local musician who performed traditional Ethiopian music on the krar, a beautiful lyre that appeared to be a mix between a violin and guitar. In the native language of Amharic, the musician sang of his people's desire to return to their ancient homeland of Jerusalem, a dream that ultimately came true after much yearning and hardship. I could see the deep passion in the musician's voice and the great pride he felt in singing the words of his ancestors.
The musical intermission was followed by a first-hand recount of the treacherous journey from Ethiopia to Israel during Operation Moses, the covert evacuation of Jews in Ethiopia in the mid 1980's. This recount came from ENP's own Roni Akale, Director General. As he recounted the hardships he experienced leaving his family and friends for a physical journey that left many perished, I was taken back by his courage and determination. I was reminded of how blessed I am to have lived such a simple life while my mother, like Roni, escaped her home country of Iran alone with the hope of finding refuge. Both were Jews living in religiously oppressive countries; both desired to practice their Jewish identity proudly and inclusively. The truth is that all Jews returning to the homeland of Israel seek this refuge in some way. Unfortunately, it was evident that for Ethiopian-Israelis, one hardship has ended with their absorption while another has just begun. In interacting with the center, the representatives from Karen Hayesod and I soon realized there is a national problem of widespread poverty and socioeconomic division in Ethiopian-Israeli communities. It was clear that ENP's grassroots work with youth within these communities would surely bring about change and close the gap in the coming generations. There was no doubt that both the Karen Hayesod group and myself left the outreach center with a newfound understanding of what it means to be Ethiopian-Israeli and the difficulties faced by future generations of these people in Israel. The mission was concluded with a lively bus ride back to Jerusalem where I exchanged thoughts on the experience with the inspiring group from Karen Hayesod. I was grateful to be a part of an experience that had empowered so many outsiders, not to mention myself. I left the mission with a better understanding of Ethiopian-Israeli life, but I also left with many questions—questions I hope will be answered in the coming weeks.

 Sheba Rasson, ENP Volunteer, Internship, July 2012

Appreciation: A Universal Language

With a background in tutoring and working with underprivileged youth, I thought I knew what to expect when I met the seven students with whom we would be working. I had no idea, walking up the stairs to the school on the first day, slightly anxious about using my Hebrew and teaching my own first language to someone as a second language, that I would be so deeply and profoundly affected by the “talmidim,” or students with whom I work. On our first day, they were all a little bit shy, some more than others. As the days went on, though, and the kids began to open up, I began to realize how each of us, tutors and students, were being affected. Not only did we help them with their English, but we also talked about our lives and theirs, and the similarities and differences between them. The girls, for the most part, all love “One Direction,” a new British boy band, and spent a lot of time talking, in English, about each band member. The boys love to play sports, and found some common ground there with another tutor, David. We tutor individually, but we also come together as a group, playing English alphabet games to help increase their vocabulary. We even made up a four-corners style game, where we were all running all over the place depending on whether the person in the middle called out a country, city, animal, or food. The moment that most affected me, though, came on my last day of tutoring. One of my students, Hana, said to me, “You are a good person. I am glad to know you.” Though she spoke in simple English, Hana spoke volumes about the Ethiopian National Project and the relationship we had developed with her kind words. I hope to see her again someday, and I know that she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her.
 Alex Friedman, ENP Intern, Amirim Program, July 2012 University of Pennsylvania '15