Thursday, February 14, 2013

ENP Volunteer Reflects on Visit to Ramla


Today, I went on my first site visit as a volunteer with the Ethiopian National Project. I had the opportunity to join a group of American students from the University of Kansas as they met group of students participating in the Scholastic Assistance program in Ramla. The Ethiopian-Israeli students were dissecting hearts in their science enrichment class, and the American University students joined in seamlessly. As the participants explained to the Americans what they were doing to the hearts, where they were cutting, and what they were looking for, they also managed to discuss their common favorite bands, such as One Direction. It was an amazing opportunity for ENP participants to talk to American University students, and ask them questions about their lives and see the common ground they share. The American students enjoyed helping with the dissection and getting to hear more about the lives of the participants. After this vibrant cultural exchange we met with ENP professional staff, and heard their personal stories of Aliyah.

Grace began by providing background information on Ethiopian Jewry and Aliyah to Israel. Ethiopian Jewry had lived isolated from global Jewry for over 2,000 years.

On May 24, 1991, during a time of political instability, Operation Solomon took place to bring over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel, in just 36 hours.  This operation reunited many families that had been separated since Operation Moses, which brought over 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel between 1981 and 1985. During operation Moses thousands of Ethiopians fled the famine on foot to Sudan. One third of those who fled perished along the way. Many Ethiopian Jews suffered great hardships before arriving in Israel; unfortunately, many continue to experience hardships here as well.

The majority of Ethiopian Israelis live in poverty; this is why The Ethiopian National Project exists. ENP was created to help and empower the Ethiopian community through education and community building. ENP works with the communities to solve issues from the bottom up, with an emphasis on education for the leaders of tomorrow.


Shulamit

Shulamit came to Israel through Operation Moses in 1984 at the age of two; she was carried on her Mother’s back from Ethiopia to Sudan, where they were airlifted to Israel. She feels that the work ENP does is her life calling, working to help and empower her community. She wants to emphasize that ENP is much more then tutoring or scholastic assistance, it is a community resource.

Tamar echoes Shulamit’s sentiments, saying that many kids don’t know where they came from and who they are. ENP provides positive role models that bridge the gap between being Israeli and Ethiopian. School teaching the kids “things” but ENP teaching them how to think and engage with what they know. Here, we encourage kids to dream big because we know they are leaders of tomorrow.

Adisu

In 1984, at the age of 9, Adisu made Aliyah through operation Moses. He reflects on his own children learning the story of his Aliyah as history in school. He still remembers the journey from Ethiopia to Sudan and life in the refugee camps in Sudan. He says that although the conditions were extraordinarily difficult the dream of returning to Jerusalem was what kept people going from day to day.  As an Ethiopian child growing up in Israel in the 80’s Adisu did not have access to the programs like ENP because they didn’t yet exist. His hope for the Ethiopian Israeli youth of today is that they take advantage of the opportunities he never had. He stresses that education is the key to success for the Ethiopian community in Israel.
We ended the day with a question and answer session. The students asked about racial inequality and prejudice here in Israel. Adisu responded by saying just how quickly racial discrimination has begun to improve.  He told the group that believes within the next thirty years there could be an Ethiopian-Israeli Prime Minister. He feels that when there are black doctors and professors and generals in the army, this is when there will be true equality, and it is completely achievable through educational programs such as this.

We left the meeting on a positive note, feeling hopeful that programs such as ENP Scholastic Assistance are making an impact on the future of Ethiopian Israelis as well as Israeli society as a whole. Hearing from the staff and participants at ENP was an extraordinary experience; I not only learned about the important role ENP plays in their lives, but I was also able to see and really feel the impact ENP makes.

ENP Volunteer Reflects on Winter Break at Heftziba Community Center

For my Winter break from Binghamton University, I decided to do something a little bit different than the average Spring break in Mexico or the Bahamas. I came to the beautiful land of Israel. As this season turned out to produce one of the biggest snowstorms Israel has seen in twenty years, I was most definitely not soaking up the sun on a warm beachfront. However, I was still enjoying myself experiencing my first snowfall in Jerusalem while interning with the Ethiopian National Project.

I spent my time volunteering at the Heftziba Community Center in Netanya, which was created by ENP as a Youth Outreach Center in a caravan on the grounds of an elementary school. The highly successful ENP Youth Outreach Center was later transformed into what it is today—a full fledged Community Center with an after school program including learning English, homework help, Tsofim (Scouts) youth group planned activities, and an authentic Ethiopian dance class. There are a plethora of daily options for the kids, from playing sports on the outdoor basketball court, and I was lucky enough to participate in many of the activities throughout my time interning at the center.

During my arrival to the Heftziba Community Center, I was met by Avi Talala, the coordinator of the community center. I toured the building, which looked newly remodeled with offices, classrooms, and an Ethiopian heritage room, where there was clothing hung in an open closet, artifacts, musical instruments, and art and photos displayed on the walls of places in Ethiopia. It was wonderful to see a room like this, acting as a miniature museum for the kids to be able to experience their culture and continue their traditions after moving from Ethiopia to Israel.

The first day working at the center I tutored first graders in English and math. They were studying the English alphabet by learning English names and turning them into Hebrew, and then doing crossword puzzles to search for the names. This way the teacher knew the letters were understood. The children were definitely eager for my help, which I gladly gave, and as we continued in the class many students seemed to gain a deeper understanding and could answer questions I would ask about the work. Despite my being a writer and an English major, I could complete elementary math quite well even in Hebrew. It was a fulfilling first day, where not only the students I was tutoring learned, but I learned about them as well.

The first to third graders were fascinated that I was from the United States, asking me numerous questions about where I lived, if I went to school, where I was originally from, and to my surprise even if I was married. The girls loved to play with my blonde brown long straight hair, as five of them surrounded me starting to braid it simultaneously. When I returned the next day I was immediately greeted by one of the girls I previously tutored, who ran up and gave me a hug. I asked if she was attending the dance class and she replied yes, so we walked hand in hand to the building where the class was being held.

The dance teacher is a very friendly 27-year-old woman named Almaz, who came to Israel from Ethiopia at age four. When she made Aliyah Almaz, which means ‘rough diamond’, was renamed Ilana to be more a part of Israeli society. However, when she got older she decided to go by her original Ethiopian name, Almaz. She is originally from Gamogofa in southern Ethiopia, where there were just forty Jewish families. At age 22, she returned and visited Ethiopia for a month, there she realized just how proud she was to be a Jew. People would ask her, “Are you Jewish?" just by looking at her, and she knew many people did not like Jews there. She used to ask herself “Why am I different, why me?” After revisiting Ethiopia she understood how important her Ethiopian Jewish heritage was and that Israel is her home and a place where she can also continue to pass on that cultural heritage. The children whose families came from Ethiopia forty years ago on Operation Moses or the children who are first generation Israeli now have the chance to learn their culture and be proud of their heritage, whether they were able to experience it themselves in Ethiopia or not. Almaz is a remarkable role model to these young girls. When there was not enough funding to form a dance class at one school, she opened it up at her house and would have girls knocking at her door wanting to continue to learn.

Almaz has been a dancer for twelve years, dancing professionally in companies as well. No one in her family dances and she never took a dance classes as a young girl, but she picked it up, feeling it in her mind and heart. At the same time she was studying law in Tel Aviv she was learning to dance. Her dream for dancing is to perform in the United States.

In many of the after school programs the children can be rowdy, as any young kids are at that age. But as soon as Almaz turns the music on all of the girls gather in straight lines and begin to dance. Each and every one of the girls, whether they were first graders or in junior high school knew the dances by heart and even had solos. It was a unique and very entertaining experience for me to be a part of, as well as thoroughly enjoyable.

By interning for the Ethiopian National Project I was able to pursue my interest in the Ethiopian culture that I have had from a young age. For my bat mitzvah almost ten years ago I visited Ethiopian families in Netanya, and my tzedkah project was donating school supplies to the children. I now feel like I have made a true impact by also physically sitting with the children and tutoring them in English. It has come full circle, but that circle is most definitely not fully closed yet, as I hope to continue this work and be a part of experiences such as these in college and post graduation.

As I return to my University campus everyone will ask each other how their vacations went. Many of my friends will be tan from hot beach weather for the past month. I will know that I did something that I will be able to take with me as a learning experience lasting much longer than any tan ever would. 

Thanks ENP volunteer Michal Goldstein for the time she spent with us and for writing this thoughtful reflection.