Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Everyone Has a Story



  It goes without saying that an Israeli summer is unlike most summers you may have experienced in your lifetime. The heat of the Middle East is truly unavoidable as it begins to cast its shadow at the early hour of 8 am. You may ask, how can one avoid this? The answer is simple. One must arise just before the sun rises, and be out on the road at 6 am, at the latest. As ENP's volunteers and staff ventured out from Jerusalem to Afula yesterday morning, this was exactly the case.We were extremely excited to be a part of a traditional Ethiopian cooking demonstration, put together for a group of women visiting from Rhode Island. As large fans of Ethiopian food, we had no problem taking part in the eating of the fresh ingera and wat, far before noon. As the group piled into the Afula youth outreach center, the stove tops were switched on and the room began to fill with the smells of the traditional spices. The heat of the room and aroma of the food created the atmosphere of an "authentic" Ethiopian summer. It was incredible to be able to interact with passionate and inspired women, so excited to participate in the activity, even after only arriving in Israel a day before. It goes without saying that it's very different working with a group of adults as opposed to a group of children. From the questions they ask, to the levels of interest they show, it's very meaningful to think about the large spectrum of Jews living all over the world, and the phenomenal organizations who work so hard to bring them all together.
         As the women tried out the Ethiopian cuisine, with their hands of course, we were privileged to hear from Rachamim, the ENP regional supervisor for Afula, Beit Shean, Migdal HaEmek and Karmiel. The women were avid about hearing an Aliyah story, so Rachamim gave them exactly that. A large theme of the morning was the concept of a story; everyone has one. A true story includes a struggle, a journey, and a redemption. The Ethiopian Aliyah story possesses each of these three factors in a very intimate way.
     Rachamim explained how ideas of traveling from Ethiopia had circled among the villages by word of mouth. Like many who left Ethiopia in secret, Rachamim made the trek from Ethiopia to Sudan on foot in 1984. He had told his mother that he wanted to go to Jerusalem, expecting to be rebuked, however her reply was quite the opposite. She said, "no problem, it's fine by me." Jerusalem was the dream. Moshiach is coming! What could go wrong? Based on this reaction, Rachamim wrongly, anticipated no danger.
    The journey covered 570 km and spanned over 23 days. The group was stopped and robbed a total of five times as they traveled on foot with minimal food and water. The bandits never hurt them, but they did steal everything they had. When they made it to the boarder and onward, they had to hide their Jewish identities out of fear of being killed or arrested. They were placed in Red Cross refugee camps, set up in the blistering heat of the desert. There was no shade in the desert and the severity of the heat inside of the tent was just as bad as outside. Eventually, Rachamim was able to obtain a passport and fly through Switzerland to Israel. It was necessary to keep his Aliyah as secretive as possible.
   As his story was translated phrase by phrase, from Hebrew to English, the faces of the women drastically changed. They were impressed by the brutal journey that was integral of most Ethiopian immigrants. They are an extremely resilient people who truly earned their right to be in this country. The women responded intelligently and were very thankful for the stories and of course, the delicious food. After they left; we, the volunteers had no problem finishing up the leftover ingera and wat. It's always fascinating to hear and experience the stories of others while observing the newcomers behavior as they embark on the journey for the first time.

-Emily Zimmer

Getting a little more serious with Efrat- Lesson 2/3

Justine again! Now having finished my second session with Efrat.
I honestly find her fascinating. For someone who has been through such hardships as her parents passing at a young age to moving here, leaving everything behind at home to move to a new country, and now learning a new language, she is a very wise and positive woman.
Yesterday I came across an article about some of the Ethiopian protests around Israel. The articles I read touched on the police brutality and racism protests towards the Ethiopian communities around the country.
I asked her about what she thought of the issue. She personally said she sees racism all around her. She believes the Ethiopian community to be a very emotional and prideful community. They are very intense and real about their culture and their customs. She feels the people who left Ethiopia to come (not the israel-born ethiopian youth) have a guilt attached to them from leaving their home and everything behind for a new place. She feels it gives her low self esteem because she doesn't belong. When a people have a completely differnet culture, food, clothing, skin color, and home life, integrating into a new one could be almost traumatizing. They went from a place where everyone was pretty much the same, to a population of 140,000 in 8.192 million. Pretty crazy if you ask me.
What really surprised me was her not knowing about similar brutality and racism in the United States. Being someone who's from North America, its not hard to see all of the stories of racism among cops and citizens, and just in general. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign is at an all time high right now. She was so saddened to hear about some of the stories.
She then said something so naive, I could picture an innocent child say it: "Why does my skin color have to mean my self worth?".
And its true: why is it that there is only one Ethiopian doctor? Why is it that the majority end up being cleaners, or cooks, or "help"?
She said the world is such a complex place, and G-d created people so differnent to give us a chance to love and tolerate each other. To love and accept difference. To LOVE. She said every day G-d puts us to the test, to create a happy world. Through every experience we have, with every person. She then told me that her and I, a Canadian and an Ethiopian working together, is passing todays test.
It makes me so sad to hear her side, although she is so positive. When I see people I never see it as a test to accept, I always just did right away. When I met her, I didn't see her as an Ethiopian black woman who needed to be helped. I saw her as a peer, a Hebrew speaking woman who wanted to work with me. Why can't more people see it this way? Maybe I am the naive one.
I ended off by asking her if she would rather be in Ethiopia or in Israel. Without hesitation she laughed and said "Of course Israel!! It is my home!".
Efrat goes by the Torah, and the mitzvoh in the Torah. She said that every step you take in Israel is performing a mitzvoh because it is our holy land. She explained she could not live life as a proper practicing Jewish woman if she is not living in Israel with her family and practicing it to the fullest. I thought that was such a beautiful sentiment and great way to end our chat.
As I have much more to write about, I will be seeing her next week for our final chat and blogging about it then. I have much research to do in order to come up with an even better topic next week!
Looking forward to writing some more!
Justine Frankel

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Tale of Two Commutes

There are two experiences that bookend my interning in Ramla each time we go— the trip there from Tel Aviv and the trip back. While these bus rides might seem to lack substance worthy of a blog post, the respective experiences of travelling to and from work are so indicative of the experiences we have at the ENP youth center in Ramla I felt it was well worth sharing.

It is 2:30 PM, we (my co-intern Haley and myself) meet on Alenby to catch a bus to our first destination: the Central Bus Station. We are a little tired, a bit reluctant, and honestly looking forward to around 9:30 pm when we will be back in this exact spot, especially considering the CBS is not the kind of place you want to be at night. We then take one bus to another. We dread this second bus. It stops. And starts. So. Many. Times. But eventually, in what consistently takes twice as long as it should, we make it to Ramla. Our walk from the bus stop to the center leads us through a neighborhood full of life. Kids on the playground, kids too old for the playground, a multitude of cats, graffiti adorned buildings, beautifully designed traffic circles and the occasional ancient mosque.

The first day it took some maneuvering to find the actual building, an inconspicuous one-storied white structure quietly tucked away in a corner. We only made it to water and air-conditioning after a series of phone calls that highlighted my extremely mid-level Hebrew skills. We were about to discover if our build-up fears for the summer were warranted: a vacuum of English, a lack of tasks for us, kids who wouldn’t engage, and most importantly that the commute wouldn’t be worth it. However, as I said, our demeanors were quite opposite upon leaving our first day.

Instead of trapping us, the language barrier intrigued and challenged us. We met some kids who were definitely happy to try and speak to us in Heb-lish. We were kept busy in meetings, learning about the history of the Ethiopian Jews, touring the center, and getting to know the kids. We genuinely felt like we could build a community for ourselves.


The bus ride back is always full of conversation. We talk about why Israel exists, how the Ethiopian community even got here, how funny it is that we spend as much time commuting as working, the laws of international relations and exchange stories about moments we had with kids. Our time at ENP gives us a new perspective on life—our creativity is sparked, our minds are energized and new friendships have been forged.

Our Trip to Ashkelon

            On July 5th I finally got my chance to go out into the field and interact with some of the community members in Ashkelon. The day started out normally I got into work at 10:00 and at 12:30 we started to head off on our way. The ride itself was about 1 hour and 20 minutes, we also had to pick up an intern from the train station on our way there.
         
          When we finally got to our community center we saw that the gate was still locked, which meant we could not get it. All though this was a bit stressful since we were already running a bit late, we were able to have a quick tour of Ashkelon and learn a little about the community. After our 5-10 minutes tour we were told that the gate was open and we could come in. We then started to set up for our program for the day
              Now before I get into what we were doing that day in Ashkelon let me give a quick background on the town and community. Ashkelon is a more less fortunate neighborhood. At the same time many of the Ethiopian-Israelis were playing football (soccer) in the streets, which is unsafe more several reasons. Because of this we felt it to be necessary to build field in which they could play in.
            Coming in I was not sure what to expect for the days. I knew that we where going in to the center and working on the field but did not know about what the Ethiopian-Israelis would be  like would be like. When I first saw them I saw many similarities between them and African American  American teens. We also met a group of South Africans who were probably the most diverse group of people I have met. 
             The South Africans are a group of 5-16 year old students on a leadership program here  in Israel. They came to the center and learned about the the community and history of the Ethiopian-Israeli people . So as we were preparing everything for when they get here, we find out that they were going to be a little late. When they finally arrived, they first learned a little about the Ethiopian-Israeli community and many of the issues that they face and then were told about the community and the why the field was being build, and then we were given shovels and rakes to work and help on building the field. After about 15 minutes of work they came back in, enjoyed a nice cold cup of water they went back to the room and heard the Aliyah stories of Eli Melech, a staff member who runs a number of the community centers here in Israel. By 6:00 PM the group finally left and we started to head our way back to Jerusalem.

Roni Akale; Journey of a Lifetime

            On the morning of June 30, 2016, the volunteers at the Ethiopian National Project were privileged to hear from ENP’s executive director Roni Akale. He modestly opened by explaining that his English wasn’t stellar, however his ability to communicate with us was extremely coherent and enjoyable. Roni has a warm soul and it’s very clear that the lessons he's extracted from his life are worn on his sleeve. 
            Roni was born in a small village in Ethiopia that he described as "far from town". His village was primitive and lacked essential utilities such as electricity. He completed both elementary school and high school in Ethiopia and went on to work in the ministry of agriculture as a book keeper for 2 years. Interestingly enough, In 1928, it was Roni’s uncle who had built the first school in Ethiopia, which originated as a small shelter built of roots and the like, created to bring children together to study mathematics. This detail proved itself as a prevalent foreshadow to the higher education Roni would later achieve. 
           Ethiopians live in great recognition that Ethiopia is not their home. They pray and wish and often say, "we will be in Jerusalem next year". However, Roni couldn't help but ponder, "how can we go to Jerusalem?" He knew it was necessary to travel to Sudan first, which wouldn't be an easy venture. The Ethiopian government was communist at the time and didn't allow anyone to leave to another country. The only way to leave would be in secret. Roni and his friend found themselves paying a man who said he could take them to Sudan. In 1983, they embarked. The journey took 8 days and 8 nights of constant travel. The jungles they traveled through we're dangerous, carrying robbers at night who eventually stole everything they had except for their donkey. As they neared closer to Sudan their leader left the pack with his young boy and his donkey. He said the boy would be able to guide them. However, this was a lie. The donkey however acted as a living GPS, as he had come from Sudan and allegedly, knew the way home. The jungle was laced with snakes and other dangerous animals; as they walked with no food or sign of refuge, they knew they couldn't lose that donkey. The men traveled a total of 800 km until they reached the border. 
       Roni had met his brother at the border who had been traveling in secret as well. The men went on to enter Sudan where the situation was difficult. There was no food or medicine and many Ethiopians  had perished. "We must survive", was the first and most important thought on Roni's mind. They had met young Ethiopian people who gave them food and shelter. It took three months but eventually they made their way to Israel. "I came with nothing, no luggage, no money, only with my mind", Roni remarked. "Israel took care of us. We were given clothes and shoes, and with that I started Ulpan". Roni once again reminded us how difficult it is for him to speak English, however these struggles were hardly apparent to us at all. Roni learned Hebrew for ten months and went to Hebrew University. He began in economics but then switched to Haifa University and studied social work. He then joined army. He would later go on to Ben Gurion where he would merit receiving his second degree. 
       In the army, Roni took part in Operation Solomon. "I was very happy Ethiopians were coming to Israel". He was privileged enough to be the one to step on the plane and say in Amharic, "Welcome to Israel!!" There are currently 178,000 Ethiopians here in Israel. A resilient people, quick to adapt, "we are doctors, lawyers and engineers".  At this point, all of Roni's 9 siblings are living in Israel. All have their first degree, more than half have their second, and many also went on to be officers in the Israeli army. Roni is an extremely optimistic person. He believes that one must think positively in order to succeed. "If I think negatively, it will get me no where".  These are wise words that carried Roni all the way from Ethiopia to Israel on foot, through Ulpan, university, and the army - truly a journey of a life time. 

Emily Zimmer
ENP Intern
Queens College