An outlet for the ENP's workers and volunteers to reflect on their experiences with the Ethiopian Israelis who have left home for the Promised Land and to demonstrate the impact of the Ethiopian National Project on their transition into Israeli life.
By Maya Katz-Ali ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel Student at Clark University
Everyday I feel like I get
closer to the students in the center. There are many moments that my volunteer experience distracts me from the current political situation here in Israel. It reminds me that while our country is undergoing great difficulty, life continues
on, river-like, so many twists and turns but always moving on.
I have recently added
a question of racism to the mix of my interviews. I assure them that they don’t
have to answer if it’s not comfortable, and that I won’t put it in the book but
that it’s just to raise awareness that this is still sometimes a struggle in
Israel. It is a reality that many of them have experienced; it is a part of their
story but I think they can grow strong from it. I ask a question of what they
want to be when they are older after that question, because I want them to
dream and think about how they want to get there.
Though I wish I could interview every student, unfortunately there
is not enough time for that. Now I am starting to wrap up my project and take
the pictures that I need to make into the book that I will be making for the
students to keep at the center. Then I will be choosing a couple lines from the
interview which I feel has taught me about each student. As the end becomes
more and more apparent I’m already dreading leaving. As so many of the kids
say, the center is really like a second home to them. For me it has also become
a place of such familiarity and growth.
Now the challenge is the time-crunch to put together this book that I am working on(decorating and collecting all the photos), type up all the interviews and then
translate them. These next couple of days will be the real challenge, of
putting everything together and feeling some sort of conclusion. I can't wait
to see how this all turns out! I only hope that this will mean as
much to them and people that read it and their stories, as it does to me.
By Rachel Kraus ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at Brandeis University
Unfortunately this past week was a shorter week for me as an intern because the center arranged for the kids to go on a 3 day trip to the North of Israel. But for the time that I was there, I had a blast! I arrived and, of course, the boys were circled around the pool table; if they could, I’m sure they would play all day, every day. Then the same man who came a few weeks ago to teach them how to make various Ethiopian pottery pieces came. It was his last visit at the center and he wrapped up all this lessons. He also brought back all the art projects they did together and made a big collage out of all of them.I even got to make my own mosaic of my name in Amharic, which was one of their previous projects that I wasn’t there for. I love seeing the boys learn about Ethiopian culture and how excited they get about it, because it’s too easy to be so immersed in Israeli culture and forget where they came from. Afterwards, it was time for karaoke. But it wasn’t just a microphone and a screen with song lyrics on it; they brought in a DJ with a huge table, tons of songs, lights and everything. It was so funny watching the kids get up there and have fun, some of them are very talented! I also really enjoy learning about what kind of music they listen to. I’ve already added a few new songs to my Itunes that they sang for karaoke! So now, as I am about to begin my last full week at the Lod youth outreach center. I feel like my time with them flew by. I know that this experience will leaving a lasting impact on me, and I can’t wait to see what the last week will bring!
By Ryan Youra ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Hillel Graduate from American University
I went for it. A rip of brown spongy bread, some potatoes and some sauce, and a messy pinch and smiles all around as the sauce dripped down my hand.
I ate Ethiopian food for the first time. Not just any Ethiopian food, but food cooked by my campers. I guess if I was going to finally have it, it might as well be homemade. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been volunteering at the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), an organization committed to providing youth outreach assistance and services to Ethiopian-Israelis. I’m currently working at summer camp for recently immigrated Ethiopian-Israeli girls ages 12-16. As a group, the volunteers plan the activities, buy supplies, and then help run the camp on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. It’s easy to picture Israel as one homogenous population, just a ton of white, European descendants, all Jewish, all speaking Hebrew. But that isn’t the case. Yes, a large majority are white and Jewish and everything is conducted in Hebrew, but Israel has a mix of cultures and people like any other country. If anything, the tensions the past couple of weeks highlight that.
I’ve learned a lot about the experience of Ethiopian Jews and the challenges to integrating them into Israeli society. The Ethiopian-Israelis at the camp attempt to bridge their two cultures. They study in Hebrew and gossip in Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia). They listen to both Israeli and Ethiopian music. They message their friends in Ethiopia and chat with their friends in Israel. They eat pita and injarra. But there is more for them than choosing which bread to eat. Ethiopian-Israelis have a lower chance of passing the end of high school and university matriculation exams, potentially limiting steps towards future success. They have to navigate the differences of their two societies, and that’s not so easy. Food gives them an avenue to keep some of their Ethiopian identity. That sour, spongy bread is their comfort; it’s their usual. I’m glad that I could take part in even a little bit of it.
By Maya Katz-Ali ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel Student at Clark University
I value each new story I hear. The students have been patient with me while I write their answers and helped me with spelling. I tell them they can also ask me questions after I tell them a bit of my own story. Who knew that one of the most difficult parts of my project would be to get them to pose or agree for pictures. I'm trying to put together a book for them of their stories or sentences from their interviews. But to pose for a picture - no way! Embarrassed or not cool for this age, or just cultural thing...it's hard to tell. Also quite late in the game, I got the idea of asking the kids about Ethiopian names and their meanings. Understanding the meanings is incredible! It really adds another level to the story I get from each student, because each meaning of each name holds story and culture. For example one of the children’s Ethiopian name (name in Amharic) means patience. Which in itself tells a story of the family, the values and culture. Most of the kids are somewhat embarrassed to tell of their Amharic name and the meaning. The more I am with them I am able to see the assimilation process they are each going through. How each student is struggling with the balance of their culture at home and fitting in, in this country, conforming to the present. We have also been doing some projects with the girls once or twice a week, with snacks and activities. It’s a blast to see the girls enjoying themselves and gaining confidence. I have realized that not only do the kids need to look back on their history and see their lives as stories to pass on, they also need strengthening in the present. That is why the girls’ evenings hold so much meaning as well. There was quite a few activities that I suggested to have at these evenings. One of the other volunteer’s Hebrew is improving but still somewhat in beginner stages for conversational Hebrew, not that mine is great, but for many of the activities I translate the best I can. When looking back on my favorite moments from this summer, one that sticks out is on one of the girls’ nights when we played a game I had learned in another situation in working with children. This game involves humming tunes to well known songs and having the rest of the group try to guess what song it is. It so happens that both mine and the girls’ music taste overlap in some areas, so I was helping to give song suggestions to each one. Then they would hum and have the rest of the girls guess. The game pulled each girl out of her shell and soon every girl was raising her hand to do another song to have the other girls guess. I have a picture stuck in my head of one of the girls enthusiastically humming and for the life of us, no one could understand which song it was. What I had started to notice in the last month and a half is that the group of girls was quite split up to some extent, slightly cliquey. In this moment, every single girl was crying with laugher while trying to recognize this strange tune. The girls were all enjoying and laughing with one another and in that moment there was no clicks. There was no difference between “cool” girls or “shy” girls or anything because all were enjoying and laughing, including the girl humming.
By Jessica Shankman ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at University of of Minnesota
On a typical day, I travel with another American student when interning at the Lod ENP center. It's been a great arrangement: the two of us are able to navigate transportation together, as well as lean on each other when communication becomes difficult. She is also nearly fluent in Hebrew, which has become quite a source of comfort to me. However, one day this week she called to tell me that she would not be able to make it to work. This meant I would be doing a big group activity on my own. The idea of conducting a group project on my own without my personal Hebrew translator present was nerve-wrecking to say the least. And yet, I found myself doing just that a few hours later. The activity we had planned was to have the kids complete a little questionnaire about themselves (best friends, favorite song, dream for the future, etc) and then stow them all away in a time capsule. This way, they can dig it up a few summers from now and see how much they have changed. I was excited to see that the kids were engaged in the activity from start to finish. Many of them were chatting with one another, deciding what they would write that would describe them to their fullest. While I explained the activity in English for those that could understand, the staff helped translate for everyone else. At the end, the kids put their questionnaires in their own personal envelope and decorated them. A few of the older boys went outside and started to dig up a spot in the garden for the time capsule to be buried. These kids have such a sense of humor about them. While digging, they sang “Am Yisrael Chai” and other hymnal type of songs as if we were having a sacred burial. We gave mock funeral speeches. We even said a (very inaccurate) blessing for the ground together. By the time we had covered the capsule in full, we were all laughing. Afterward, I had a chance to sit and chat with some of the girls that don’t regularly attend. When they started to speak to me in Hebrew, my first instinct was to redirect the conversation to English. But after pausing a second to think, I realized that I probably could get by with the broken Hebrew I know. Soon enough, we were having a full conversation with barely a word of English involved. I was so excited—apparently I had retained more than I originally thought from the summer with them. It was really fun and special to have them correct me when needed and help me through the conversation. And by the time I left, I felt much more connected than I realized would be possible. Moral of the story: without a crutch to lean on, one may find that they have had the strength to walk all along!
By Elyse Waksman ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel Student at Clark University
“I will miss camp.” This is the last English sentence of the day we taught the girls at the camp at Tzvia. It was a bittersweet day, starting with this English lesson on the future tense, and ending with the girls giving us gifts and certificates to show their appreciation for us. We spent the day writing letters to IDF soldiers, decorating picture frames and filling them with photos of all of us, and exchanging contact information so that we can remain in touch. Working with these girls over the past five weeks has had such a huge, positive impact on my life, as cliché as that sounds. I hope and believe that we have also had that kind of effect on the girls. I wish that we could have worked with them for longer, because our relationships with them would have continued to grow stronger, but we packed as much as we could into the time we had. During these past several weeks, a few of the girls have invited us over to their homes (I will be going later today!), which is exciting and heartwarming. On the first day of camp, getting the girls to even talk was a challenge, and now they’ve opened up to us so much, and that development tells me that we’ve done something right. Even more than going to one girl’s house for lunch today, I’m looking forward to our banquet next week, when we’ll get to see their community and meet their families. It’s only been a day since the end of camp, but I miss the girls already and cannot wait to see them all again!
By Maya Katz-Ali ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel Student at Clark University At first, I had a small group of other students with me to help interview one of the teens. I had someone help write down the questions and answers, as well as assist with translation. After this first interview I came to some new conclusions. I realized I should do the interviews myself, make the conversations more personal, and to have a safe space. I also had to remind myself that although these students have big stories, they may not be at the age yet of realizing the magnitude of telling their story. Their attention spans are short and they haven’t started thinking of their lives as a story to be written and that is still being written. I learned a lot from the first interview and even added a couple questions since about their home traditions and how they are different from Israeli culture. The next couple interviews went a lot smoother because I got used to telling my story and opening up a bit differently to each one to set the bar of comfort. Some of the students have told me information in the interviews that they requested I keep private, so the fact that they still shared these things with me meant the world. I feel that by getting to know each of their stories also helps me to grow and understand a part of their culture. I also feel I get to know them as people, as growing students but also as wise beyond their years in some ways. Some of the stories, and answers to the last question of what do you think is important to teach your children has brought tears to my eyes and left me with a heavy heart. I feel I have improved my Hebrew a bit, but mostly I really feel to be learning about building personal connections with students and staff of any age. It’s a different culture that one must get accustomed to, but it’s also helping kids to know that each of them have such an important and unique story to tell. Along with my interviews I have been doing activities with the kids, learning their individual stories, as well as the ways in which they experience Israel. We have "Girls Night" for the girls, in which there are activities and games made to empower the girls that are quickly becoming young women. I didn’t realize how important these kind of strengthening activities for the girls would be, to encourage them to play sorts and be able to do what the guys are doing. Also we had a parents night, which was mostly lead in Amharic, but I learned so much from the activities and stories shared throughout the evening. Just getting everyone together, whether it’s the kids or the parents, to participate in a planned activity seems to bring light to everyone’s eyes. I feel so lucky to experience and do a project with such lighthearted and willing to share community.
By Jessica Shankman ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at University of of Minnesota
It is amazing to think that only a few weeks ago I did not know the children at the Lod Ethiopian National Project at all. All of the amazing day trips we’ve been able to go on, programs we’ve done together, and time we’ve spent just hanging out at the center have made me feel a unique connection to these kids. This past week, I was made aware of how the culture of the Ethiopian Jews fosters manners and respect. Even when the kids are having a hard time being convinced to do chores around the center or stopping whatever games they are playing to listen for directions, they are able to bounce back and regain attention in the end. They are considerate and are always making sure others are accommodated for. For instance, this past Thursday, the center planned a trip to the Cinema City in Rishon L’Tziyon for the day. I had assumed that it would be like any other trip to the movies: popcorn, soda, and relaxation. However, in the company of the kids that came along, we quickly realized that this was not just a movie day—it was an experience. The kids were ecstatic when we realized that we would be sitting VIP for this movie. We walked in to a room that was full of gourmet pizza, salads, dessert and beverages and it was all for us! I found myself feeling just as excited as the kids. We were sharing this totally new and awesome experience with one another. Some of the kids came up to me raving that this was the best day of their summer and that they felt like “ballers.” Let’s be honest—I think we all did! What really impressed me about the day was how much patience the kids had even with all of the stimulation that was surrounding them. They could have trampled over each other to grab food and drinks before everyone else as I would have expected. Rather, I watched the kids act with subtle tact. They made sure that I had a seat and anytime anyone got up for food they asked if anyone else at the table wanted anything. They continually made sure everyone at the table had been served food and offered each other napkins, silverware and plates. Such small gestures, and yet it left such an impression on me. It was clear that they appreciate the trips that are planned during the summer and look out for one another as if they were family. It’s been such an amazing dynamic to experience. It was such a welcomed break from the daily life as well, with the impending war of the last couple of weeks. There is nothing as hopeful as to see young people living their everyday and enjoying themselves.
By Rachel Kraus ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at Brandeis University The 4th week at my internship at ENP has certainly been the most exciting and inspiring one yet. This past Tuesday was the first time sirens were sounded throughout central Israel during this particular conflict, and I happened to be at Lod’s youth outreach center when this happened. It was the first time EVER that sirens were heard in Lod. It had started off as a typical day at the center; the soldiers who volunteer there led a great activity about dreams and how they can be achieved. Afterwards, everyone started getting ready to paint the walls of the center, paint a mural that they had decided on, and to do a little gardening in the yard. Suddenly, everyone started running towards the back of the building and I didn’t understand why until I heard the penetrating sound of sirens. It brought me back to my time on Young Judea Yearcourse in 2012 when rockets were fired at Jerusalem for the first time since 1991. I felt that same feeling of panic and uncertainty in Lod almost two years later, only to look around and find that it was an entirely different situation. On Yearcourse, I looked around the stairwell that everyone was crammed into and saw people panicking, crying, and shaking. In Lod, however, I looked around and saw people chatting, even laughing, in a state of total calm. I was confused because it was these kids’ first time hearing these sirens, yet they didn’t seem worried at all. Once the sirens stopped, we looked outside to see smoke zigzagging the sky where the Iron Dome intercepted the missile. I was feeling somewhat unsettled and didn’t really know what everyone was going to do next. Then, without any mention of what just happened, the staff and the kids went outside to continue beautifying their center. The juxtaposition between the uneasiness the missiles induced to the relaxing, therapeutic activities they were doing a few minutes later really struck me. I asked one of the teenagers how they were feeling, and he said it was no use thinking about one thing all the time. He said we can’t do anything to change it right now, so we have to simply continue living our lives. This boy is 16 years old, born in Ethiopia, having had to move to Israel and live in a somewhat crime-ridden city, yet his attitude is mature beyond his years. I was inspired by the bravery of these kids and their ability to live their lives happily despite all the obstacles that they face. It was so different from the spoiled attitudes of Americans that I’m accustomed to and it made me more grateful for all that I have.
By: Jessica Shankman ENP Volunteer Career Israel Student at University of Minnesota- Twin Cities
For the kids at the Ethiopian National Project, the end of school had been long anticipated. This week was full of festivities to celebrate the beginning of the summer season! On Sunday, ENP Lod turned into an open house for all of the parents and students to come talk about what events were in store for the summer. The parents were warm and welcoming, and many came over to speak to me in English which flattered and surprised me. The kids received different awards for participation and for the strengths that they bring to the group. It was great to watch as the kids went up and received their awards in front of their family and friends. Many of them looked embarrassed, shying their head away from the audience or looking at the ground as kind words were spoken about them. However, it was clear that they were proud of themselves all the same. Later in the evening, the girls and boys were split into two groups. The boys worked on traditional Ethiopian drumming while the girls were taught dance steps. I joined the drumming group. It was such an incredible experience to watch as the children drummed away and repeated the beats of the instructor. I saw how this was a beneficial exercise for the kids. Not only did they get the chance to channel their energy into their own original music, but they were also tested on their patience, in a call and response manner. It was difficult not to keep pounding on the drums even as the instructor asked them to stop, which is a useful way for the kids to test their inhibitory control. All in all, it was so fun to be part of such an important cultural lesson.
My next visit to the center was particularly special to me. Because Fourth of July was that week, we thought it would be important to have an American culture day with the kids. We created a game of jeopardy with questions about American music, sports, politics, etc. We hoped this would turn into a fun cultural exchange and lead to discussion about our lifestyle. And, in case the questions weren’t as interesting to the kids as we had hoped, we brought in as many American snack foods as we could think of. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that we didn’t need the snacks to hold the kids’ interest in the game. Many of the boys got so heated in trying to be the first to answer these questions correctly that we would have to take breaks to try and convince them to lower their voices. It was so great to see them take each question seriously and give it some thought. When their answers were incorrect, they were interested to find out the correct answer. However, many of them knew the questions without hesitation, which was quite impressive. In fact, I’m sure some of the kids would be stiff competition for some children in America. In the end, Oreos, Twix, and Doritos were devoured and I felt even prouder to work with such fun and energetic children this summer.
By Jessica Shankman ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at University of of Minnesota It is hard to express in so many words my feelings about this week in Lod ENP center. I went to work last Tuesday hoping that the talks of rocket attacks could not be true. I’ve never been in Israel for times as these, and didn’t want to think that these threats may actually come true. That day at ENP, the kids planned to do some center beautification projects—specifically, clean up the garden and do a graffiti mural outside the center gates. As we began doling out materials, and the kids’ spirits were high, suddenly movement outside came to a halt. Just as enthusiastically as they had headed outside to start the project, the kids were pushing themselves back in to the narrow hallway, shouting something about sirens. At first I registered the events as what must have been a joke. Never have sirens been sounded in Lod (so I read). And even so, the kids were not panicked. Startled and shocked, yes—but not the kind of panic that I had always imagined to happen whenever I heard about rockets in Israel from America. I, on the other hand, was frozen in shock. I must not have been hiding it as well as I had hoped, because several of the kids came up to me and asked how I was doing or reassured me that it would be alright. I caught myself thinking how backwards this scene was! I, the older mentor, was being reassured by 13 year old kids. As the sirens finally ceased, we walked outside to explore the damage. One of the kids immediately pulled me to the center of the sidewalk and told me to look up. Sure enough, there was a thick line of smoke where the rocket had been intercepted by the iron dome. My heart beating inside my throat, I was sure that the day was over. Everyone would go home to check on their family. The kids would be shaken and the project would be rescheduled for another day. But as I was trying to gather bits of information about what had just happened, the boys were already laughing and grabbing their brushes, buckets and rakes up from where they had dropped them. This was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. I am so thankful that I was with ENP when the status of Israel changed and rockets began to be fired. Seeing the reactions of these children and being with them to work on beautifying the center became a clear symbol for the life that Israeli’s live. One moment, violence and fear; the next, peace and creation. After things had settled down, I asked one of the boys how they were feeling about everything that had happened. He shook his head and said “What can we do? These are things that we cannot control. We must push through and move forward.” I have learned so much more than I could have imagined from the kids at the Lod ENP center.
By Rachel Kraus ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Career Israel Student at Brandeis University Wow, times flies! I’m now writing about my third full week at ENP. With each passing week, I am connecting more and more with the organization and its participants. At the beginning of the week, there was a special meeting for the teenagers and their families to welcome in the summer and introduce the summer’s programming. It was exciting to meet the kids’ families; some of them had the cutest baby siblings! Even more so, it allowed me to have a better understanding of where they come from. After the introduction and the presentation of awards from the past school year, the parents had another information session and the kids had a special drum activity. I joined in with them and we banged on the drums for hours, while the teacher who came in explained how each individual person’s drumbeats represent their words and feelings. We all had a really good time and I think it was very personally satisfying for them. After the drumming, it was already getting late but I wanted to stay a little longer so I went to watch them play soccer, their absolute favorite and obsession, and chatted on the sidelines with those who didn’t play. Unfortunately I missed the bus back but I got back to Tel Aviv on a different bus and it was worth spending the extra time with them. Today was extra exciting because it was the first real time that I led an activity for them. In honor of July 4th being this week, I planned an America-themed activity, where we talked about 4th of July traditions, how it differs from Israel’s Independence Day, and then a trivia game about different aspects of American culture. They got really into the trivia game and had a lot of knowledge and insight into American culture! I also was able to lead the entire activity in Hebrew, something I had been previously apprehensive about, so I succeeded in attaining one of my goals today! After the activity, a representative from the Ministry of Education and the national director of ENP came to the center to get better insight in how the center was doing and what effect it was having on the participants. It was inspiring hearing what the kids had to say about the center and its supervisor, Avi. Today was the first day I truly realized the significance of the center in their lives and I am so proud to be a part of such a meaningful process, after hearing all the nice things the kids had to say. This may sound corny, but these kids really warm my heart. As I’m getting to know them better, I am starting to understand their background more and the potential path their lives could take. It makes me so happy that these kids are motivated enough to come to the center and use their time constructively to utilize the facilities and classes and to spend time with their friends in a healthy environment. They enthusiastically participate in every activity, whether it be debate, Ethiopian culture, music, hip-hop, anything really, and are incredibly genuine individuals. I look forward to the coming weeks, to hopefully make as much of an impact on them as they will make on me.
By Maya Katz-Ali ENP Volunteer Summer 2014, via Onward Boston Israel Student at Clark University In ENP I am working on the job of story collecting. Breaking into how exactly I wanted to approach this line of work was challenging. What kind of questions to ask, what might be too personal, how to record the information, whether this should be a group project, how to make the student comfortable enough to share his/her own experience…etc. Also Hebrew not being a language I am fluent in proposed another big barrier. I started to discover (and am still) slowly the answers to these questions and difficulties by seeing what the students of the center seem to respond best to. I decided that I would start out describing the project that I was doing. Saying that I was interested to hear their stories and family history because I believe it is very important to know to build yourself as a person. Then to explain that I want to put all this information together to bring home to explain to people that don’t know about Ethiopian Jews and their Aliyah process. I ask each one if that is okay and if they are ok with me sharing the information they give to me. I always emphasize that if there are any questions or information that they are uncomfortable with then I don’t have to write it down. Before the interview questions I start with telling the interviewee my own story, of being part of 3 very different cultures. I come from a mixed background where my father is Muslim from India, my mother is European Jewish and I live in America. I am very familiar with both the strong cultures that I am a part of and I have close friends of many religions and backgrounds. I feel that sharing my story helps them to see me as a person and feel comfortable to share their own story with strength. These are the questions I had come up with for the interviews:
How many languages do you speak (at school, at home etc)?
Where were you born?
If born outside the country, how long ago did you and your family make Aliyah (move to Israel)?
How did you feel about moving (nervous/excited/scared?)? memories?
Who in your family, of your friends made Aliyah (with you - depending on answer to question #2)? Were you the oldest of siblings…?
What stories and lessons do you feel you’ve learned or that your parents have taught you about being in a new country?
How long ago did you start coming to the ENP center?
How do you feel the center has helped you/what have you learned here?
Then after these questions and a trial or two in interviews I realized I needed a conclusive question, one open ended but also to get them thinking. I came up with the idea to ask what they want to be when they grow up. Then after they tell me what and how they plan to do that, I ask What they want to carry to their children. From there history, from culture and their family, from their Aliyah experience what do they want their children to learn. That question, that question, was the best decision I have made in this process.