For an Ethiopian Ghetto: Asher (Mekonent) Rachamim
Community Social Worker, attempts to answer: What kind of community do we need?
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.
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
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
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
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
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.