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.