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For an Ethiopian Ghetto: Asher (Mekonent) Rachamim

Asher Rachamim, Community Social Worker, attempts to answer: What kind of community do we need?

On Rosh Hashana, I found myself with the opportunity to celebrate with cousins in Upper Nazareth, and I was able to see a beautiful gathering which we are not used to seeing in our days.
During the holiday I visited the Ethiopian synagogue were they had organized holiday services. The prayers were done with the participation of the younger generation, adults, and spiritual leaders (Keisim), and the combination of these participants created a true holiday atmosphere - and also created in me a longing for the culture which is neglected. Two generations prayed together, and between prayers, the Keisim organized sermons in Hebrew and in Amharic - something that produced closeness and mutual respect. The Keisim taught the secrets of the laws of the Rosh Hashana prayers as they were practiced in Ethiopia, and we tried to compare between the two sources.
The youth appreciatively asked questions, and also received answers. I was made happy by this amazing opportunity to see connections between old and new, between "here" and "there." "The child runs faster only if the elder arrives first," teaches a popular saying, regarding the respect that the community has for the elder and his wisdom. The elders of the community and its wise people act as a factor in the mediation during private and community quarrels, land disputes, etc.
The process of laws and norms evolved in a natural way among the community, and the elders had little need to involve external factors. The social order also characterized itself with the internal criticism of the lazy boys who don't reap what they sowed. Cultural codes unique to the Ethiopian community (such as politeness, humility, restraint, patience, tranquility, and mutual reliance) made it possible to maintain the hierarchy, the order, and the unity of the community.
But now that the community is not giving enough support to itself and its children, many of us have a sense of failure, and are taking responsibility for the absorption mistakes that were done by the absorption Establishment. The trek to Sudan was supported by the dismantling of the community, and the Establishment dismantled us again and created a conglomeration of families, without any familial or communal logic, located in weak places. The absorbers tried, for example, to define the Ethiopian immigrants by their origin and skin color alone. In doing this, they disregarded the complexities of a community which came from many different places (Gondar, Tigray, Armacho, Simin, Kora, not even to mention the Falashmura, etc.). Each one of these regions had its own behavioral patterns, statutes, and even different ways of life. We hear all the time the concept of "the Ethiopian ghetto."
It is appropriate to refresh the memory that the ghettos were created first by intentional policies. Similarly, all of the community-mindedness of Ethiopian immigrants was created to strengthen rather than to weaken. Certainly, there are certain conditions we have to take into account -- building anew the community's abilities, and specifically focusing on better solutions in the areas of education, welfare, and employment. The community has a dearth of material resources, and therefore, it must seek an investment of resources from a place of faith and complete knowledge that the community with continue, strengthen itself, and create communal partners with other groups. The test of building an "Israeli" and "new" community while disregarding the past is very dangerous and will likely damage more than it lends.
To me, it is completely certain that this community and its children are chosen to stand up to every challenge as we have done in the past, to survive, to rise and bloom anew. But this depends on our ability to believe and to bring about the changes we seek in the social, economic, and political spheres.

A Community with a Dearth of Teachers and Educators - Moshe Semo (February 2004)

Someone seeking to find educators from within the community in the education system will have a hard time finding them. I do not mean that it's not possible to find lone employees working as educators or professional teachers, but these numbers are negligible in proportion to the numbers of students who complete the study of education in the academy.
In contrast, we have witnessed a recent flowering of Ethiopian educators working as liaisons (between parents and students, and to help students catch up to grade level) in the educational system. Most education students who are of Ethiopian descent who have just finished their studies are absorbed into the system to work as liaisons instead of working as regular teachers. Instead of these students continuing their professional careers by integrating into the educational system, they are only found in jobs as "para-educators."
The role of the liaison within the school system is necessary and significant. They act as mediators between the family, the child, and the education system. Unfortunately, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the liaison is like a "step-son" in scenery of the school system. Meaning, the liaison is perceived by the system, by the administration and the teaching staff alike, as an outsider who is forced or placed on the school, and not as a integral factor in the school (by the outside, even though the liaison is presented as an integral personality). In my opinion, an increase of these educational liaisons will affect the community in the long run. There will be people who will disagree with this, but they cannot disregard the fact that it needs to spark concern in the community that the liaison's role is increasing.
There is room for the liaison program in the school system because it is a full-service system, but not in exchange for the lack of Ethiopian teachers and educators. The contribution that an Ethiopian teacher can give is immeasurably greater than the contribution of a liaison, who is only in the schools for a few isolated hours. Teachers and educators in a school wield a lot of power, and a little of this strength could spark change from the within in the educational system.
Similarly, the school system can more easily accept criticisms and comments heard from within than hearing them from its own step-son. The added contributions of a teacher or educator from within the Ethiopian community lies in the hidden lesson it teaches the Ethiopian-Israeli students: that people from their own community, too, can work as educators and be models to imitate and admire even to children who are non-Ethiopian. Additionally, this kind of teacher carries the lesson of working together with those who are not Ethiopian, and that there is no difference.
The future of the community lies in the education of the next generation. Besides for investing in the education of children, we also must invest in training the man power which can work as teachers and educators. Most of the programming today is in the area of liaisons, and a small bit - if any - is invested in training teachers from the Ethiopian community. This man power exists within the community, but it needs to be encouraged and directed to enter the workforce of the education system for the long run, without resorting to more short-term directions. The future of the field of liaisons is unknown, but as is the nature of things, if in the next years the support continues to grow, the need will too.
In the present situation, a portion of the liaisons will find themselves without work, and without the option of becoming teachers. Their ability to become teachers afterwards will be low. If the community wants to take responsibility for the education of its own children and to spark changes in the education system, it must strive to place many Ethiopian teachers and educators in schools now, so that in a few years, some of them can even become principals. The community's challenge in the realm of education is that it must focus on making the mediation and coordination jobs obsolete, and telling education students that it is better to enter the school system through the front door, as teachers and educators, and not through hiding or through the back door.
Moshe Semo, Jerusalem

Netanyahu is Bad for Ethiopians - Menberu Shimon (February 2004)

The critics of Bibi Netanyahu and his plan to "heal" the Israeli economy have attached a slogan to him: "Bibi overpowers the weak."
A good example of the truth underlying this slogan can be found in the effects of his economic plan on the Ethiopian community.
A number of weeks ago, I was watching channel 2 news, and on the screen I saw a picture which brought home most of all the hardships faced by poor people in general and Ethiopian immigrants in particular. The piece spoke of a starving young Ethiopian girl, whose fridge was entirely empty. This pure child explained that all she ate before going to school were tea biscuits, and on a good day, a piece of bread. She did not even mention hot food. In the Ethiopian-Israeli culture, people are embarrassed (maybe out of a sense of honor), and no family will go to a food pantry. People are also too modest to expose their hardship to the public.
And if the girl and her family agreed this once to expose themselves in the media before the whole of Israel, it seems that this was an exception, and a breaking of the whole barrier. But what bothers me most in this story is that after this, the education system claims that Ethiopian children are not succeeding in their studies - as though the state has invested so much in them. I simply do not understand how any accomplishment can be expected from a girl who goes to school hungry.
Bibi's economic plan continues to make worse the economic and social situation of Ethiopian immigrants until it prevents them from having even the most the minimal chance to bridge the gap. His program of prolonged cutbacks is worse than all the years of absorption and its very serious implications. Until now, Bibi has succeeded to turn the immigrants back to the years of the nineties, to that dark period before the days of Professor Amnon Rubenstein and Yair Tzaban. Paradoxically, the MERETZ party's agenda has been furthered - the party which did not benefit from the electoral power of Ethiopian immigrants, positive nationalism, and great influence.
As Minister of Immigration and Absorption, Tzaban chose to grant from 1994 and on, large federal mortgages to Ethiopian immigrants, from the social perception of giving the opportunity and turning Ethiopians into property owners. Indeed, through the grant, thousands of Ethiopian families became owners of their own apartments. And Rubenstein, as Education Minister, strengthened the education cabinet decision from 1992 which established that Ethiopian immigrants would benefit from federal aid for five or six years of study after the obligatory years of schooling. The strengthening of this decision made possible free tuition for Ethiopian students, and in a short time, the number of Ethiopian students in higher education institutions jumped. It is true that even in their period, Rubenstein and Tzaban made mistakes in the realm of absorption, but there at least was the motivation to learn and to listen to the needs in the field; this is not the case with Netanyahu. Since he is invested in the macro outlook of economics, he pays no attention to the special needs of weak populations.
Without a single person raising an eyebrow nor the most minimal of objection, he voided in one moment the program that had been active for eight years, the program of special mortgages to Ethiopian immigrant. And in addition, he in 2002 he cancelled the tuition aid for all immigrant students. Only after public outcry did he agree to temporarily reinstate most of the cutbacks. On the student aid, danger still hovers, and I have no doubt that ending this support will hermetically seal the gates of universities and colleges against Ethiopian immigrants.
The picture of the little girl on channel two called up bad memories in me of the trip to Israel, the tribulations on the way, the thirst and hunger during the trial towards reaching the promised land - the land flowing with milk and honey. We already gave up on the milk and honey a while ago. Now, what can we say to a girl who does not ask for milk and honey in the fridge, but only a piece of bread to quiet her hunger a bit.
Menberu Shimon, Jerusalem

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