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.