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.