Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Daily Inspiration

By: Rachel Gerber
ENP Volunteer Coordinator

Just over a year ago I made Aliyah and I stumbled upon ENP. Well, it's more like ENP was a gift that came into my life at the perfect time. As I learned hebrew in Ulpan most mornings I spent afternoons in the ENP offices. I arrived with no hebrew comprehension, and with much patience and understanding the Staff at ENP welcomed me and took the time to try to teach me as we worked. Although the language barrier was evident, I never once felt that my Hebrew (or lack thereof) was met with anything but patience and understanding.

In May I began my position as the Volunteer Coordinator at ENP, yet another blessing in my post-Aliyah life. Over the last eight months of working at ENP I have been blessed to witness the daily inspiration that is ENP's work; to hear the phone calls and read the emails for requests for assistance and watch them transform into success stories, smiles on kids faces, and good grades on report cards, is nothing short of a daily miracle.

So, while we go through our daily routines or for those of us snowed in, in Jerusalem, as we enjoy magical snow days I hope we can also take a moment to appreciate these daily miracles, and feel inspired by the amazing work being done!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

ENP: Home Away From Home

By: Benji Bernstein
Intern, Rothberg International School

My name is Benji Bernstein and I've been volunteering at a youth center sponsored by the ENP this semester. I've been having an incredible experience working with the kids there these past couple months.

To be honest, I did not really know what to expect when I first walked into the underground youth facility in Beit Shemesh. However, as soon as I arrived, the staff and teens there made me feel at home. "Do you want to play me in ping pong?" I was asked in Hebrew by one of the 14 year old kids. As a huge table tennis fan, I naturally jumped at the opportunity. After we started playing, about five other kids lined up around the table. "Can I have next game?" one asked. As they determined the order of who would play after, I began to talk to the kids, and to really get to know them. I've learned a lot from them since.

For instance, each time I go, I have a great time learning about new Israeli music from them. As we talk, play sports, or do homework together, Israeli hip-hop is often blasting on the massive speakers at the center. This creates a festive atmosphere in the facility, and gives an added level of excitement to every activity.

There are some truly amazing things going on at this place in Beit Shemesh. When you look at each of the kids, their smiles are enough to show you how positive of an impact this youth center really has on them. They are all great friends with each other, and they usually don't stop laughing from the time that they walk through the door. It is clear that the facility is like a second home to them. It's a place where many of them spend a great deal of their free time, and it is even more meaningful to realize that this place keeps these kids focused on the right things. The madrichim (or guides) who work there are like big brothers to the kids, and it's easy to see how significant and positive of an influence they have on them. It's genuinely like a family, and I think all of the kids there would overwhelmingly agree.

I am so fortunate to have had this opportunity to volunteer with the ENP during my semester abroad in Israel. It's definitely going to be sad when I have to say goodbye to everyone in Beit Shemesh in a few weeks.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Breaking through Barriers

By: Penina Romanek
Intern, J-Internship Program

            While interning for ENP, I have learned how forming meaningful relationships can break through any type of barrier. I was apprehensive at the beginning of interning because I thought only speaking a little bit of Hebrew would hinder me in forming connections with the children. However, I have not felt that at all.

Sharing a common language is not the foundation in which relationships are built upon. When I communicate with the children, I smile and show through my body language how much I care about them. They do the same onto me. One of the best parts of my day is when I enter the youth center and then hear, “Penina!” coming from the voices of the girls. The girls then run up to me and give me a hug and even the boys make a point to show me they remember the songs I taught them on the piano.
    I am so grateful for the opportunity ENP has given me to be a positive role model and to see the beauty that is inside each and every child. Seeing them smile and express themselves is what has made my experience in Israel fulfilling. Just like the children and I are breaking through language barriers to form meaningful relationships with one another, Ethiopian-Israeli youth are breaking through the barriers of coming to a new country. I have the unique opportunity to witness the youth realize their potentials, and I am so thankful.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My Favorite Day of the Week

By: Abby Mandel
Intern, Nativ College Leadership Program

Sometimes volunteering can seem overwhelming. But then, you experience its many rewards. Read about Abby’s journey with ENP at the ENP Scholastic Assistance Program in Beit Shemesh supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the BIG Corporation, and at the ENP Youth Outreach Center in Beit Shemesh supported by the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington DC, its United Jewish Endowment Fund and Beth El Congregation. 

One Sunday, about a month ago, I began my long bus adventure from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh. I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into; I heard about volunteering with ENP from a friend on my gap year program, and on a whim, signed up. I knew no one else going, and had no clue how to get there. Honestly, it was impossibly easy to see my nervousness through my brave façade. After asking countless Israelis which stop is mine, and to warn me when it was time to get off the bus, I made it to the school, and found myself even more overwhelmed. I was suddenly thrust into this huge project, much bigger than me, with so many facets in so many parts of the community. I was suddenly signed up to tutor an English class of kids nearly my age, sent to an after school center to help run games, activities, and teach English, and then on top of that, sent to yet another after school center, this time for high schoolers, to help with homework and simply hang out with the “children at risk” who attend. I was shocked at the amount of work to do, and at first felt like I was in completely over my head.

But now, I can easily say that signing up to work with ENP was one of the best choices I have made since coming to Israel in September of this year. I have made such strong connections with the kids I have met through this program, kids who come from such a different background than I, but are somehow so relatable to me. While I teach them English, I have a chance to improve my Hebrew by leaps and bounds. While I help them with paper machè, they teach me silly games like “Cat and Dog” (basically tag). While I tell them about life in America, they teach me about life in Beit Shemesh, coming from Ethiopia. I can easily say I have learned even more than I have taught, both about these children I have the chance to work with, and about myself. I love the feeling of coming into a situation to make a real impact on a community. It is impossible to describe how rewarding it is to be run up to and hugged by several kids all yelling your name, just because you sit and play checkers with them. Equally rewarding is it to be told by a high school student that they “Will most definitely come back to be tutored again, because I really like you.” Sunday is my new favorite day of the week.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kol Ha-olam Kulo

By: Penina Romanek
Intern, J-Internship Program

I was once told, “The wisest teacher is forever a student.” As a social studies teacher, ENP has shown me the importance of this statement. When I decided to intern for ENP, I had no idea the extent of the difference it would make in my life or the new perspective it would give me. Not only are the Ethiopian-Israeli youth learning from me, but I am learning even more from them as Pirkei Avot states, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” I have gained so much from my time working with children at the youth centers and Branco Weiss High School in Beit Shemesh. It was this past week, though, that really opened my eyes and gave me so much strength.

Last week, a mission trip from the Jewish Federation of Washington D.C. came to the youth center in Beit Shemesh. Micha Feldman, who was responsible for carrying out Operation Solomon in 1991 that brought Ethiopians to Israel, opened my eyes to the pride and experiences of Ethiopian-Israelis in their decision to come to Israel. Feldman spoke of his experiences and I have never felt such Zionistic pride in being Jewish and being in our homeland. The Ethiopian-Israelis did not leave Ethiopia because of war or famine. In Ethiopia, they lived a simple life in villages. When Feldman first came to Ethiopia, he went to the synagogue that contained the one Torah that was donated to them from a Jewish Federation in the United States. After Shabbat services, they immediately said to Feldman, “When are we going to Israel?” They were willing to give up EVERYTHING to come to Israel because for centuries as the Jewish people, we have always said, “Next year in Jerusalem.” The Ethiopians had to go through refugee camps, through being packed tightly into planes (as many as 1200 to one plane), through being separated from their families, all to come to the Holy Land.

                When I was at the youth center this past Wednesday, I asked Degen and Sima about their stories. Degen, a 26 year old Ethiopian-Israeli singer who works at the youth center, told me he came to Israel when he was 11 years old. I asked him where he liked living better. He stated firmly, “Israel.” I asked why. He answered, “Because I am Jewish.” That was it. That was all that was needed.
I asked Sima the same questions. Sima is an 18-year old student who is volunteering at the youth centers to give back to her community before she goes to the army next year. Sima’s parents came to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984 through Sudan. I asked her what it was like for her parents in Ethiopia. Sima answered, “My parents were very wealthy in Ethiopia and here they are not.” I asked her if her parents were happy that they moved to Israel. She answered, “Yes. My parents came because they wanted to see where the Beis Hamikdash (the Third Temple) will one day be.” Many Ethiopian-Israelis are struggling in poverty, had to struggle through so much to come here, and are having trouble being fully accepted into Israeli society, but they still did it because they are Jewish and they knew they belonged in the Jewish homeland.

At the end of the mission trip, Ethiopian-Israeli students from the elementary school gave a presentation with Ethiopian music and dance. Together they and the audience sang “Kol Ha’olam Kulo” in Hebrew and in Amharic. In English, the words are “The whole wide world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all.” This is the story of Ethiopian-Israelis. This is the story of every Jew.

                From these experiences, I have never felt so much pride in being Jewish and have never felt so much love for the Jewish people. Now all we have to do is make sure that Ethiopian-Israelis are able to be successful and reach their full potentials here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

ENP= Social Justice to Me

By: Destiny N. Dixon

University of California, Berkeley

ENP Rothberg International School Intern, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

How can I forget October 9th, 2013? I can’t. This was the day I experienced real Israeli love; my very first day volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project. I spent this day in Ashkelon with a group of wonderful Ethiopian women. I felt like I was around my mother and her sisters. I had the pleasure in helping them pick chili peppers and other spices and veggies from the community garden in order to cook a range of delicious original Ethiopian dishes. We enjoyed this food with other ENP volunteers, staff, and donors. IT was amazing. Although the majority of these women spoke Amharic, I felt the love as we converses in our limited Hebrew. We ate, laughed, ate some more, hugged, kissed, drank amazing Ethiopian coffee, and shared our desires. One of them even invited the volunteers and I to her home for a Shabbat dinner. Such genuine hospitality left me wondering…

I wonder about their stories; migrating to Israel in search of something new. Did any suffer in refugee camps along the way? Did any lose a son, a daughter, a loved one during their journey? Did any feel like giving up because of her lack of education and language skills? Regardless if they did or did not, where does such humble hospitality, warm welcoming, courageous courtesy, and genuine geniality stem from? They treated me, a complete stranger, like one of their own. And that, my friend, is the Beauty of Blessed Love. 

As an African American living in Israel, I am not surprised at the number of times I have been mistaken as Ethiopian here. I remember once while working with the younger kids in Beit Shemesh, (in my aleph level of Hebrew of course) I was explaining to the girls that I am not Ethiopian. One girl in particular
¾we’ll just call her Jane for identity purposes¾well Jane’s facial expression seemed as if she was dumbfounded at my statement. “What do you mean you’re not Ethiopian?” Did it not make sense? You don’t speak Hebrew. You are not Ethiopian. You are not Israeli. You are not Jewish. Why are you here? I then thought about notions around authenticity. In essence of race, culture, ethnicity, and all of the other identity markers, when, where, how, and what cultivates your authenticity? Am I authentic enough to relate to a common struggle? Are you authentic enough to comprehend cultural values? Are we authentic enough to realize, I am human. You are human. We are one in the same.

Thank you to the beautiful queens in Ashkelon for helping me to realize this.

The cultural distance is there. But, the effort in traveling the roads less traveled is the very thing that transforms such distance into a ladder; it is no longer a wall, hurdle, or barrier.
Jane’s eyes lit up when I told her how much I enjoy eating Injera! She goes to the other girls at the table, “hee ochelah injera veh hee ohevet et zeh!” (She ate injera and loved it!) She went on to ask me more questions about when and where did I eat it, what did I eat with it, and started telling me what other Ethiopian dishes I should eat. We smiled, laughed, colored, and conversed about food. Jane, thank you for accepting me as one in the same.

When I think of the work of ENP, I think of Social Justice. Volunteering with ENP is helping me understand the depths of that very notion. Social justice is reconciling those who are deprived from the fruits of life back to hope. Jane is a one of those fruits. For if this current world was a perfect utopian society, what would we need to hope for? It is the reward of fulfilling the hope of sincere human connection. When we look beyond society’s hegemonic ideals about race, gender, class, sexuality, language or what have you, we are able to experience the fullness of God’s purpose for creating life. It reveals to us how deep we can love, how long we can endure and persevere, how forgiving we can be, how long our helping hands can extend, and the endless possibilities of living in peace even in the midst of chaos. 

ENP. thank. you.

I am looking forward to more.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Love at the first sight

Written by Leoni Groot

Actually I have so much to write, because so much happened since the last time that I wrote. And yes, I could have made time, but I didn’t. I enjoyed my life in Israel and the volunteer work with ENP so much and all the time I kept saying to myself: I will write a blog post soon.

But I didn’t.

Now here I am, back home in the Netherlands. I remember that I came into the ENP office for the first time about six months ago, thinking how much time I would be with the Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers and about the many meaningful things I could do for ENP. Time has gone so fast. It’s funny that I only really realize what I learnt and how wonderful everything was now I am back home. I remember my last day with ENP: Instead of feeling like these were my last hours with ENP, I felt like I would be there the next week again.

Why? Because ENP gave me such a welcome and happy feeling!

During my ‘fieldwork’ I went twice a week to Fidel, the youth center in Petah Tikva. I met the most wonderful, smart, creative and funny kids! I have countless good memories of this center.

One of those memories is a remarkable one of a discussion during one of the last English classes, which was about food and insects. I talked with some girls about the cultural meaning of food. Insects, for example, are in some cultures considered as tasty, while in other cultures, like in Israel, they are perceived as ‘weird’ and ‘disgusting’.

During this class we also spoke about how they, as Ethiopian-Israeli, experience Israeli food. One girl that came to Israel on the age of 9 told me that in her first years she really had to get used to the food here. I asked her what she thought about shoarma and she answered me that it was really weird for her to see all the meat on a huge stick. “And what about humus?” I asked her. She started to shine: “this was love at the first sight”.

During the summer period the youth center arranged many activities for the kids. One of the activities that I joined was a day at the swimming pool. It was a fantastic day! Both Ethiopian as well as non-Ethiopian kids joined this activity, which made it a great mix of happy smiley young teenagers. The youth center organized different games that mainly had to do with water and exercise.

I will never forget Shlomi*. He earned a special place in my heart. Shlomi is a young teenager that, according to the professionals, probably has ADHD. He does not have a lot of friends in the youth center, but still comes there couple of times a week. He doesn’t speak English, nor understand it. The only things he said to me were “Whats’up?” and “What’s your name?” Even though we never had a real conversation, I felt that during my time in that center that he was searching for contact with me and somehow we we built up a relationship.

During this swimming pool day I realized that he had a lot of fun, but that he was mainly playing alone. During the activities he was not really in contact with this fellow group mates. After the games were finished I asked him to play Matkot (Beach tennis) and he did. I saw that he really liked it, which made it fun for me as well. This moment touched me so much that I will never forget it. I think it is really important to give some kids extra attention. Besides, it was wonderful to experience how two different people, who do not speak each other’s language, together can create such a magnificent atmosphere. I will never forget this amazing boy!

These are only few of my amazing memories of the wonderful time with ENP, and especially with Fidel. These memories will always stay with me in my heart.  

I have pictures that I Fidel gave me at my last evening there to keep the memories alive. It was such a wonderful surprise, because at the last ‘class day’ (that was on a Monday), the girls from my class already surprised me with lovely big papers on the wall written with the texts “Miss you already” and “We love you, Leoni” and a table full of delicious cookies and drinks. That evening we played a game and held conversations about all different subjects that interested us. After that, when the youth center was closing, they walked with me to the bus station and together we waited for the bus.

That Wednesday evening (my last day with ENP) Fidel organizedan activity for the parents to look back at Fidel’s year. I thought this could be a nice and symbolic way to look back at and finish my time with Fidel and so I joined this evening as well. Although I didn’t understand most part of the presentation (it was mainly spoken in Amharic), I could enjoy from the people around me and the wonderful singing and dancing acts of the teenagers. At the end of the evening they asked me to come to the front. They thanked me with the warmest words and overloaded me with lovely presents, including a homemade book and collage with photos.

When the activity was finished and the center was closing, I said goodbye to everyone. It was a difficult moment. The girls of my class and some of their friends wanted to walk with me to the bus station again. On our way we stopped at a pizza place. We shared our last moments together by eating pizza, laughing and talking. Then we continued our walking to the bus. When the bus finally arrived (I was almost scared that I missed my last bus) we gave quick hugs and I went into the bus. The girls screamed “Byeeee!!” and “We love you!” and while waving they ran after the bus. People in the bus turned their head and looked outside what was happening and then looked at me. I went to my seat with a big smile, hiding my tears, and waved them back until they disappeared in the darkness…

I can’t repeat it enough times: it was a wonderful half-year thanks to ENP. This amazing experience contributed to the creation of who I am now. I learnt to give, and to see thankfulness as a wonderful gift. I became aware how important the work of ENP is for every individual teenager of the Ethiopian-Israeli community. Every small part of the work of ENP is a puzzle piece of the bigger picture of ENP’s goal: to help the Ethiopian community in completing and fulfilling their dream of a life in the Promised Land. With my dedication to my work I think I successfully contributed my part to this goal and with this, touched the lives of those Ethiopian-Israeli teenagers that crossed my life in Israel.

* I changed his name to protect his identity.

Gardening Project with Camp Ramah!

-Written by Diane

On Monday, July 29, a group of teens ages 16-17 from the Camp Ramah Israel Seminar participated in a gardening project with Ethiopian youth from Beit Shemesh.  First, everyone met at the Havat HaNoar HaTsioni Youth Village near the German Colony.  After playing a few “ice-breaker” games, both kids from ENP and Camp Ramah walked over to the gardening site in Maaglei Yavnei.  We met with representatives from the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel who explained different gardening techniques and the work they had done so far in the garden. 

The kids were broken up into two groups and were given various gardening tools and began to work!  Everyone was very enthusiastic and came with a positive spirit.  Both the teens from Camp Ramah and ENP helped to pull out weeds, rake, pick up trash around the area, and much more.  Everyone worked together to make the garden a more beautiful place.  It was very hot so we all drank a lot of water!  I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to help participate in this activity, to spend time working with both kids from ENP and Camp Ramah in the nature and make a small area of Israel into a more beautiful place.  After the gardening project, ENP and Camp Ramah teens ate lunch and took a tour of the Knesset!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Two Ethiopian Communities. One Israeli Identity.

- Written by Amber

Replicas of Falash Mura homes found in  Ethiopia stand
at the absorption center in Mavassaret Zion to give new
olim a sense of familiarity in their new surroundings
in Israel
By the end of this summer, several thousand members of the Falash Mura Jewish community in Ethiopia will have made aliya to Israel, closing the chapter on their two-millennia existence in the ancient and biblical kingdom of Cush. Jewish history in Ethiopia is as beautiful and complex as it is long, and Ethiopian Jewry have seen the kingdom transform into the predominately Christian country of Ethiopia today. As ENP gears up resources to track the integration progress of this incoming community, ENP Director General Roni Akale found time to sit down and explain the rich and complex culture of the Falash Mura. The ambiguous etymology of this term is as complex and fascinating as the culture the Falash Mura are bringing to an already diverse Israeli society.

The aliya stories of members of the Ethiopian Jewish community called the Beta Israel are the most well-known to the Jewish Diaspora. The community’s trek across the Sudan during the 1980s in efforts to reach Zion is both unbelievable and valiant. The complex history of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia, however, is still being introduced to global Jewry, and their experience in Ethiopia is much different from their Beta Israel brethren.

Donated by ENP, this embroidered tapestry was woven by
Beta Israel men en route to Israel through Sudan
during the 1980s
While touring the recent Ethiopia exhibit with ENP staff and volunteers at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv – an exhibit that featured a beautifully embroidered tapestry donated by ENP – I learned that the Beta Israel existed for centuries as an autonomous community in and near the northern province of Gondar, Ethiopia. Self-segregated from the heavily Christianized Ethiopian society, The Beta Israel practiced a culturally-unique form of Judaism for millennia, and managed to develop and sustain their practices and torah-observance during this expansive time period. The Falash Mura, however, endured a different fate. Once a part of Beta Israel, this community outwardly joined the dominant Christian, Amharic-speaking communities of Ethiopia a century ago, and sometimes under coercive circumstances -- either threats of violence or crippling discrimination. However, they maintained many Judaic practices, customs, and identity in secret, almost always intermarrying with one another as to preserve their Jewish identity and unique cryptic culture.

The Falash Mura's cryptic existence is not exceptional to the Jewish experience in the world. Some Ashkenazi Jews in Europe prior and during World War II adopted Christianity in attempts to survive the genocide of the Holocaust. Cryptic communities found in  parts of Africa, Portugal, the Caribbean and South America, and the United States are descendants of Sephardic Jews who were victims of the Spanish Inquisition, and who were forced to partially adapt to the religion of their host countries to survive.

Today in Israel, both the Beta Israel and Falash Mura make up the 150,000 plus Ethiopian-Israeli community, and the Ethiopia exhibit in Tel Aviv was an excellent way for museum-goers to learn more about the incredible social and religious history of Ethiopia. Once separated by circumstance in their host country, the Beta Israel and Falash Mura are becoming united once more under one unified Israeli identity.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Experience Volunteering

My group was placed in an absorption center in Mevaseret Tzion. I had never been to an absorption center of any kind, so I didn't know what to expect. The building was smaller than I thought it would be, and when we got there, the girls had just finished a morning prayer session and were about to begin a Hebrew lesson. The first day was a little hard for me because my Hebrew is not good, so I had some trouble understanding the teacher as well a connecting with the girls. The day got better as it went on because we spent the first day just having conversations with the girls about their family, their lives, and things they like to do. We practiced asking questions and giving responses in English.
From then on, or group of 4 volunteers from ENP spent our time at the center working with the same group of 3-6 girls. Since the classrooms were already being used by other groups, we moved our lessons to a picnic table outside. We kept our activities short, so that the girls wouldn't get bored. We played a lot of games with the girls that helped improve their English vocabulary such as charades, pictionary, and other word matching activities. From working with the girls, I realized that they are so smart and that they have so much to teach us. They have only lived in Israel for a few years yet their Hebrew is very good. Not only that, but a lot of them do know basic English, and a few of them can even write and spell in English. I was very impressed with this, and I have a feeling that their English will greatly improve throughout the rest of the summer. I really enjoyed working with the girls and I wish we had more time with them.

-- Abby

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Beit Shemesh Recital

Last Wednesday, the Joseph and Rebecca Myerhoff Community Center threw an end of the school-year party/recital for the Beit Shemesh community. Many ENP participants performed for their parents, teachers, and friends. It was a sweet evening with lots of giggling voices and the consumption of way too much popcorn! 

-- Lily

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dege in Action!

On June 10, a group of new interns travelled to Beersheva to assist and document the visit of a Birthright group from all over the United States. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to learn traditional Ethiopian dance from Dege Hanoch Levi (whose own amazing story was posted by Nisha Khorasi below). It is absolutely as hard to do as it looks!

ENP volunteers, Beersheva staff, and local students.

-- Lily

Monday, June 17, 2013

Walk a Few Hundred Miles in Dege’s Shoes

From a young age, we have all perfected the art of complaining—I’m starving; It’s so hot outside; I need water; When will we be home?—The list goes on. This past Wednesday, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear the story of a woman who knows not the meaning of a complaint. Dege Hanoch Levi was too busy trekking hundreds of miles from Ethiopia to Israel to have time to complain.

Dege was born in 1976 in Wozaba, an Ethiopian village in the district of Gondar. Dege grew up in a Jewish community, working in agriculture and herding shepherd at a young age, while the rest of us were probably in preschool, swinging on monkey bars and dipping on seesaws. The Jews in her community practiced their religion with great devoutness according to the biblical law and never deviated to a different code of conduct. Their hearts’ desire was always to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, “the land of milk and honey.” In 1983, Dege’s family made the decision. They were going to make the journey to Jerusalem.

A seven-year-old Dege helped her family pack their most important belongings and kissed her house goodbye. Her family headed to Gondar to meet the rest of her relatives. The family’s Aliyah plans were kept in utmost secrecy due to the Ethiopian government’s complete prohibition of Jewish emigration. Once everyone was gathered in Gondar, the family split into smaller groups, in hopes to mitigate the likelihood of arousing suspicion of their journey. Before crossing the journey’s starting point, two of Dege’s young brothers were arrested and put in jail after the local police discovered their emigration plans. Dege had to continue the journey with a relative and friend, without the knowledge of where the rest of her family and friends were.

Dege and her two travelmates joined forces with a larger group of Ethiopians headed for Jerusalem. The journey was marred with many hardships and troubles, extreme hunger and thirst. The group walked through the nights and hid during the days in order to evade bandits. While all of the children in the group were taken care of by their parents when they were tired, hungry, or thirsty, Dege and her friend had to fend for themselves. Despite being in such a large group, the two girls were alone, with no one to rely on. Dege recalls falling asleep one night while walking through a forest. When she opened her eyes a few minutes later, nobody was around. Alone in the eerie forest at night, young Dege ran for her life, searching for the group. She was afraid of never finding the group, never reuniting with her family, and never reaching Jerusalem. By a stroke of luck, Dege was able to locate the group.

After miles and miles of walking, the group reached Sudan. It was here that they were reunited with other Ethiopians in refugee camps. Dege was lucky enough to find her grandfather and uncle at one of these camps. They were in disbelief at Dege’s condition—dirty, completely covered with louses, and weakened. The two men took care of Dege. For the next six months, the three of them lived in a refugee camp near Khartoum. The family worked hard and took care of each other. Eventually, Dege’s grandfather was able to put Dege and her grandmother on a plane to Israel.

Dege and her grandmother arrived in Israel in 1984, and lived in an absorption center in Be’er Sheva. A few months later, they moved in with her uncle in Zefat. It was here that Dege fell ill and had to become hospitalized. While in the hospital, Dege’s doctor joked that one of Dege’s sisters was in the room next door, simply meaning to say that another Ethiopian girl was in the same hospital. Dege left her bed to go see the Ethiopian girl, seeking a sense of familiarity. When Dege saw the Ethiopian girl, she immediately froze. It was her real sister. The two girls stared at each other in disbelief. The doctor’s joke led to the reunification of two blood sisters.

Dege and her sister moved back to where their uncle was living in Zefat. Much time had passed when Dege and her sister received news that the rest of their family was safe and sound in Israel, living in Bar-Giora. Elated, the two girls packed their belongings and rushed over to meet their family for the first time in years. Reunited at last, the family moved to Tiberias.

Dege completed her grade-school education at a religious boarding school near Tiberias before beginning her studies at Haifa University. Dege studied education, arts, and dance, traveling around the world with her Eskesta Ethiopian dance troupe. Today, Dege lives in Kiryat Tivon with her husband and son. She strives to connect her Israeli Jewish culture with her Ethiopian roots by teaching Ethiopian traditional dance to the youth. She hopes dancing will help the youth reconnect with their Ethiopian culture and make them proud of where they come from. Dege’s story is one of immense inspiration—inspiration to persevere and continue without complaining, even after walking hundreds of miles.

Dege sharing her incredible story.

A birthright group from the University of Florida was among the audience of Dege's story.

- Nisha Khorasi

Monday, June 3, 2013

Yaffah = Beautiful

Written by Amber

It's early June, and I've been in the field three times since beginning ENP -- once at the youth center in Beer Sheva, and three times at the youth center in Beit Shemesh. Each time and while in commute, I worried how I would connect with the youth. My Hebrew is a work in progress, and I had heard that many Ethiopian-Israeli youth are not English speakers.

People have told me various reasons for this. One, is that these youth are dual language learners from birth, with many hailing from Amharic-speaking homes. Their parents, too, might struggle with literacy in both Amharic and Hebrew. Therefore, having English-learning support in the home is difficult and rare. Also, these dual-language learning youth also may or may not receive adequate engagement and/or attention in schools to meet their unique linguistic needs, even in Hebrew acquisition. So, acquiring a third language is, thus, even more daunting. And finally, Ethiopian-youth may not get the opportunities to engage with English-speaking tourists and new immigrants as might other Israeli ethnicities. Therefore, the language they have learned in school is rarely practiced. And as the old saying goes, if you don't use it, you lose it.

I was surprised, however, to learn that many of the youth of ENP -- at the Beer Sheva center in particular -- knew English quite well. They were at first shy to speak, since they do not use it on a
regular basis. But all it took was a conversation about the latest songs and artists on the radio for them to feel comfortable expressing themselves in the language. We began to talk about other things in English: what they did on the weekends; Alicia Keys' scheduled performance in Israel; the hottest reality shows on Israeli TV; the beauty of Miss Israel 2013 Titi Aynaw, the first Israeli of Ethiopian decent to be crowned. We connected well, the youth and I -- so well that in the end, they seemed to think of me as the "third kid" of ENP, despite age and cultural differences.

 A similar experience occurred at ENP's youth center in Beit Shemesh. The kids in Beit Shemesh may not speak English well, but they certainly have the desire and potential to do so. I learned this finally my third time going last week. With the help of other volunteers who were  bilingual in English and Hebrew, I connected more deeply with the youth at the center. I played games with the fellows, and the girls showed me around the center, telling me their favorite places and spaces in the building.
Four of us gathered in the office of the center, and the topic of the new Ethiopian-Israeli Miss Israel came up. I told them that I  thought it was amazing and that she was beautiful.

 One shook her head and said, "The boys in Israel...don't like"...not knowing the English word for "skin," she pointed to her own.

"No, no, no, Titi and..." I said. Not knowing the Hebrew word for skin myself, I rubbed my own, as well. "It's beautiful. I mean yaffah. Yaffah zeh lovely be-englit -- in English."

 We laughed at a bit at our Hebraic English conversations. The four of us in that room made a deal. They'd teach me Hebrew, and I'd help them with English.

 We shook on it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Planning and Expectations

By: Jessica Crowell

Each Thursday, I travel to the youth outreach center in Beit Shemesh with fellow volunteer, Nisha Khorasi, to spend time with the Ethiopian-Israeli youth. During our first two visits, Nisha and I enjoyed meeting the kids and becoming familiar with the setup. On our third visit to Beit Shemesh, we were hoping to liven up the youth outreach center by incorporating our own activities and games to create a fun learning environment. We arrived with a plan. It was going to be an exciting and enriching experience.

Contrary to our expectations, the third Beit Shemesh visit did not go exactly according to plan. While we expected a dozen or so kids to be waiting at the Youth Outreach Center, we only found one. Thursdays, equivalent to Friday afternoons in the United States, are slower than most days. When students are released from school on Thursdays, their weekends begin. Since our activities were meant for a larger group, we had to change our game plan a bit. We did not have plan B because we did not expect to be in this situation. As I tried quickly formulating plan B in my mind, the Ethiopian-Israeli boy approached us and smiled. We introduced ourselves and struck up a casual conversation about his background, his life and his interests over a game of pool. We shared music and videos, taking turns picking songs and singing along. He loves English, evident by the fact that we had very little trouble communicating. His maturity far exceeded my expectations of a boy his age and it was like talking to a peer. Our pleasant visit with him ended when another regular outreach attendee walked in the room. It was a girl and we met her once before. She came and sat next to us in the computer room, eager to practice her English-speaking skills. While her English proved to be much better than most of the youth we interact with at the outreach center, she told us that she is in the lower-level class at school. She expressed her desire to be in the upper-level class with her friends. Keeping this in mind, we implemented a new rule: No more Google translate. When she had trouble coming up with English words, we encouraged her to work around it and find a new way to express her thoughts. She was tempted to take the easy road and begged us to let her use the online translator, but we knew she could do it; She needed to believe it too. An hour or so passed and it was time for us to leave Beit Shemesh. It was a shame having to end our time with her so abruptly, but it was comforting to know that we were saying goodbye to a more confident girl. She was glowing with pride as we complimented her skills and encouraged her to keep practicing. After a few more hugs and thanks all around, our day was done. It was indeed an exciting and enriching experience.

As I reflect on this visit, I consider the product of expectations, plans, outcomes and the ultimate goal. In various situations, people have an ultimate goal and create a plan to reach this goal based on expectations. When events begin to unfold, they do not always go according to plan and this can create an obstacle to successfully reaching the ultimate goal. I think about the journey that the Ethiopians took from their homeland to the Promised Land. They crossed the rough terrain of Sudan, thirsty and hungry, to reach Israel- that was their ultimate goal. Many Ethiopians were not aware of the dangers along the way and probably did not know what to expect; that was the risk they were willing to take. Their longing to reach the Promised Land drove them home without accurate expectations and without a sufficient plan.  To me, this reveals the type of character it would take to survive such a journey. The Ethiopians had to be strong, mentally and physically. They had to be flexible, ready to adapt to the unexpected barriers that lie ahead. They had to be resourceful, clever and optimistic. Above all, it was their strength, persistence and yearning for Jerusalem that allowed them to reach their ultimate goal. It is a character to be admired, as I can rarely survive a day without a set Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. Maybe I can learn something from this reflection. Extraordinary events and meaningful experiences do not always follow a plan. While planning is definitely an much needed component to many tasks and efforts, I believe that certain characteristics, attitudes and the willingness to reach the ultimate goal are better indicators of a successful outcome rather than how closely one is able to follow the original plan.

As I continue visiting Beit Shemesh every Thursday, I hope that I continue to learn and grow from this experience as I have from the previous visits.  It is a pleasure to become more familiar with the population and I look forward to the remainder of my time volunteering with ENP. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

First Day Back. First Taste of Ethiopian Cuisine.

- Diane Samuels

It has been three years since I last was a volunteer at the Ethiopian National Project! Back in 2010, I was on a year-long study abroad program in Israel and decided to spend my Spring semester interning at ENP, where I learned about the rich culture and story of Ethiopians living in Israel. I am now a graduate student, studying in Jerusalem, and am very excited to start volunteering again for ENP.

Not only was today my first day back at ENP, but it was the first time that I have ever tried Ethiopian food (and I recommend trying it to those who have not yet tasted it!) At the ENP office, we ordered two vegetarian plates that came with injera. The food was delicious and after eating I was interested in researching more about the kinds of traditional foods eaten in Ethiopia.

Injera is a national dish in Ethiopia and eaten daily in almost every household. It is a flat bread with a spongy texture and a distinct sour-dough like taste and is made out of teff, a grain unique to Ethiopia. During the mealtime, injera serves as both a plate and utensils. We placed the different spiced vegetable stews in clusters (wat) on top of the injera and then tore off small pieces to then pick up bites the different vegetables to eat. The wat are the different types of stews that usually begin with chopped red onion, which is simmered or sautéed in a pot. Afterward, niter kibbeh (or vegetable oil in vegetarian dishes) and berbere, an Ethiopian spice, are added to give the dish its distinctive flavor. Niter kibbeh is a seasoned, clarified butter, while berbere is a mixture that includes powdered chili peppers and other spices. During my research, I also found out that Ethiopians eat exclusively with their right hands – as I had not known this earlier, I ate with both of my hands.

Hopefully, this short glimpse into the world of traditional Ethiopian food will inspire those of you who have yet to taste it to try something new and learn more about a new culture in the best way possible – eating! And if you are so ambitious, you can even try to hunt down some of the traditional spices that give Ethiopian food its distinct taste and cook it for yourself or for friends.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Jerusalem Day and Remembrance Day for Ethiopian Jews: a failure of inclusion of Ethiopian-Israelis?

Written by:  Leoni Groot

Before 1967 Jerusalem was a divided city: Jordanian forces controlled the eastern part and the Old City, Israeli forces the western part. Like it is today, the Old City was important back then for strategic and religious reasons, yet Jewish citizens of Israel were prohibited from entering this area. During the Six Day war, Israeli forces captured the Old City, which resulted in a reunification of Jerusalem as part of the state of Israel.

Nowadays, citizens of Jerusalem and the rest of the country commemorate the reunification of the city every year on Jerusalem Day. During this day, memorials are held for those who died in the Six Day War. Every year, thousands of people come to the Old City to celebrate this important national day.

This year, Jerusalem Day was held on May 8th (the date changes every year, due to the Jewish Calendar) and I had the opportunity to experience this day--a day that has so much meaning to many Jews and that also meant a lot to the international politics of the Middle East.

However, this day is not only an opportunity to commemorate the city’s history during this war, but also an opportunity to remember those Ethiopians who died during the tough journey all the way through Sudan. The ceremony is held on Mount Herzl every year, because that is where the monument has been placed to remember their past.

Interestingly though, the ceremony was quite isolated in the sense of the group of people who attended it--I was one of the few white people there. How come? Is it a poorly-chosen day to hold the ceremony on, since other citizens are celebrating Jerusalem Day? Is it a sign of a divided society? Or is it a proof that Ethiopian-Israelis are still not fully part of the nation but a separated Jewish community?

With my lack of knowledge I cannot fully answer this question now. But one thing was clear to me: as a white girl I was the “other”. As at many public events in Israel, one cannot escape the security checks. Arriving there, I was asked by the security why I came to this ceremony. Apparently, telling them that I volunteer for the Ethiopian National Project was not enough; they asked me if I could prove this, but I couldn’t. “Do you know people who are already inside?” I replied that the other volunteers might already be there, and that I would be meet Grace, the director, inside. This answer still didn’t convince them; I had to show my passport and open my back for checking. While the girl from security was checking my passport I heard a familiar voice: “Hi Leoni! How are you?!” I looked up and saw that this familiar voice was Asher’s, the youth coordinator of the Youth Outreach Center in Petah Tikva who made the journey from Ethiopia to Israel himself. The security woman saw a black man with a big smile coming to me. She closed my passport, gave it back to me and exchanged few words with him. “It’s ok,” she said to me, “you can go in.” She let me through and I went to the seats where Asher told me the other kids of the youth center would be as well. Soon the ceremony started…

What is interesting about the situation described above is that the ceremony is created as a separated one by those who have are in charge of organizing it. Of course, one cannot deny that security in general already creates inclusion and exclusion: who is allowed to join the ceremony and who’s not? But the fact that it was not a problem for me once they saw that I knew this Ethiopian-Israeli man very well showed that this event was solely for Ethiopian-Israelis or for those who are directly related to this community. Any person that shows to be interested in the Jewish Ethiopian history and shows respect for their past is not necessarily immediately admitted. In this way, without letting Ethiopians share their past with other Jews, the Ethiopian-Israeli history is, in my view, kept as a unique story and a mechanism of exclusion: the Ethiopians remain excluded from the rest of the Jewish community (and therefore the rest of the Jewish community is also excluded from the Ethiopian-Israeli one). I think this is not only a disadvantage for Ethiopian-Israelis that are fighting to fully integrate into the society, but also a disadvantage for an already separated Israeli society.

In my opinion, organizations like ENP can do a lot to empower Ethiopian-Israelis, but as long as distinction exists, they will always be a ‘special group’ within the Jewish community, which will disadvantage them in all aspects of life. This is why I think that Remembrance Day for Ethiopians should be held on another day (despite the beautiful symbolic connection with Jerusalem Day) in order for it to become a day that also the rest of Israel can remember those Ethiopians who didn’t make it to Israel and to provide the rest of the society with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of their fellow citizens.

This might be step closer to a successful multicultural society.