Monday, April 29, 2013

A New Volunteer, A New Experience

My name is Amber, I arrived to Jerusalem from Washington, DC about a month ago on a 5-month Masa Israel program, and I am very excited to volunteer with the ENP! This is because I have seen first-hand what empowered individuals and powerful grassroots movements can achieve in their communities. Because I am both Black and Jewish, I know all too well how easily the perspective, the struggles, and the voices of minority groups can go ignored in public discourse, forgotten in history books, or inadequately supported in society. ENP seems to work against these trends by working to improve education opportunities for Ethiopian-Israeli youth, empowering leaders within the community to speak out about their needs, and celebrating the unique cultural lens and experience that Ethiopians add to Israeli society.

It's been an interesting month here in my ancestral home thus far. Although most Americans Jews experience a sense of "difference" for the first time in Israel among the diverse faces, I feel like most Israelis think I'm a part of the family. I'm pretty sure this is because I'm often times confused for Ethiopian because of my dark skin. In America, dark skin color among the American Jewish community is commonly thought of as an anomaly. But Israeli culture is made up of Jews who have come from the four corners of the world, including the ancient Kingdom of Cush (modern-day Ethiopia). So, Israelis try to converse with me in Hebrew in line at the store, or pick me out of a myriad of pedestrians on the street to ask for directions, or express outright shock that am an English-speaker who has little idea of what they are saying to me in Hebrew.

"Ma Pitom, no way!" one man exclaimed last week, "You're not Ethiopian? I was wondering why your Hebrew was bad and your pronunciation terrible."

But, color is only skin deep. The culture I hail from is very different from that of Ethiopian-Israelis. However, this does not mean that I cannot relate to their experience here in Israel, or as being darker Tribesmen within the Jewish Diaspora. Like Ethiopian-Israelis, many black communities in America still strive for better education and employment. Also, more can be done to educate Israelis and the Diaspora about the community's culture and history. The same can be said about other communities in the Diaspora who may have had more of an isolated existence in their host countries.

So, I am looking forward to working here over the next few months. And one more thing: I was warned today to expect the youth at the outreach center known as Yalma in Beit Shemesh to drill me on my knowledge of hip-hop artists and songs that are popular in America. Apparently, many of them are hip-hop experts. This worries me; I actually don't listen to a lot of hip-hop....instead of blogging, perhaps I should go research what teenagers are listening to these days. I hope to update soon!