Today I had a remarkable opportunity to go with a friend of Shalmi's to the Ethiopian Immigration Center here in Mevesseret. These centers were created throughout Israel 25 years ago to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The goal is to educate them and assimilate them into Israeli society. The center we visited is like an encampment surrounded by one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the Jerusalem area. Nurit, a friend of Shalmi's, is a university professor who spends much of her free time tutoring the Ethiopian girls in Mevesseret. Nurit explained to me that it is her feeling that the Ethiopians should receive a better quality of life and should be able to leave these encampments much sooner. Shalmi explained to me that coming to Israel from a third world country is very difficult to overcome and often this process is not always met with the success that it was intended to create. Nurit gave me a real sense of her committment to these girls and how important it is for these children to receive one-on-one tutoring. There are days when they can't attend school because their mother's have to work and the older siblings have to watch the other children. Education is a priority for these families, but it also appears that their starting point in Israel is the mere basics of introducing these people to modern life.
I met Yemsrach, an 11 year old girl who has been in Israel for 4 years. (she is in the photo above with her sister) Here name means " I bring good news" and Nurit explained to me that this name was chosen for her because several children born to her mother before Yemsrach died in Ethiopia and her birth was a bright light for the family. We met Yemsrach and her 5 year old sister at their home in the center which to me looked like a cement barrack. It was Shabbat so there was a makeshift market selling used clothing and some food. Children were running around playing games like jump rope and hide-and-seek. When Nurit beeped the horn, Yemsrach came running out of her home with a big smile and happy to greet us. Nurit told Yemsrach I would be coming along and she was delighted to take us on a tour of her complex. I saw the medical building, the community center and a way of life for me that was difficult to grasp. The children go to school in other communities, some as far as an hour away. They do not go to school in Mevesseret and Nurit feels that this is an injustice to these children. Apparently, schools take in a certain number of Ethiopian Jews resembling a quota system.
After our tour, we got in Nurit's car and drove to her home in a neighboring community. Yemsrach was very happy to grab her school books and take off to a tutoring lesson. I was overwhelmed by the paradox of her living conditions and her incredible enthusiasm to learn. She had been waiting 8 weeks to receive these new books because her parents didn't have enough money to purchase them. (In Israeli public schools all students have to purchase their books.) As soon as we sat down and started to work on the English lessons, she knew exactly how to read the Hebrew instructions, begin the task and could pronounce and understand all the words in English represented in the lesson. I saw in her a desire to learn, achieve and most importantly a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It was remarkable to witness Yemsrach's desire and potential.
When I asked Yemsrach what she wanted to be someday, she immediately replied - a teacher - in English! I hope her dream comes true some day because I could see in this lovely young girl such extraordinary potential.