Friday, November 5, 2010

Day 5 - Ethiopian Immigration Center

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.


  1. Colleen
    thank you for this report, it is beautiful - though I look too much like a teacher-
    As you have seen, these "third world" children can adjust very quickly and successfully to the First WOrld that is Israel. Their despeakable living conditions, and the discriminative attitude of the authorities towards them, have no other explanation but pure, sheer RACISM. This is the name of the game in the Jewish Democracy of ISrael, and thank you for making it known to the world.

  2. Yemsrach and the other Ethiopian students seem like amazing people. It's inspiring to see students so driven to fulfill their potential despite their circumstances. Enjoy the rest of your trip. I can't wait to hear more about it when you come back.

  3. Joan said...
    I have been reading your blog all week and I am amazed once again at all the things that I have learned by reading it. You have such a gift of teaching and you have touched so many lives (old and young alike) with the stories that you have relayed over the years regarding the Holocaust. This trip to Isreal is no exception. I'm sure that you have so much more to share with your students once you get back. We are very blessed to have you here in New Milford. Thank you for all you do and wishing you safe travels home! Joan

  4. Colleen--
    I love your blog, and especially this entry about the Ethiopian children who eagerly approach learning. Yemsrach inspires me! I will show this entry to my students tomorrow and hopefully inspire them as well. We take so much for granted. Thanks for continuing to inspire me to be a better teacher!

  5. Hi Everyone,
    I just returned home this morning at 4:00 AM and have continued to think about Yemsrach and how I can help her and the other girls. She touched me in a way that I haven't figured out how to fully express. Lisa, I too will speak to my students tomorrow about my experiences with Yemsrach and in Israel. Everyone I came in contact with from the school in Nahariya, to my dear friend Shalmi, his friends and family - they all have opened my world beyond words. I have a lot to think about, but one thing I know for sure is I will continue to communicate with Yemsrach and Nurit and find ways to make her world brighter. I know I will be sending her some books in English that are high interest and lower reading levels. Many of the books she reads in English are at a very elementary level and uninteresting to her. I didn't do any shoppng while in Israel, so I left behind my spending money for Yemsrach via Nurit. How could I not, my kids didn't need another souvenir from my trips nor did I. Thanks to everyone who contributed their comments to this blog - they motivated me to keep going even when I had technical difficulties blogging and had to text Lisa to solve my problems in the early morning hours !!!

  6. This trip sounded amazing. Sorry I was so late on the comments. I've had a lot on my plate this past week thanks to my family haha, but anyway I felt touched by Yemsrach as well. It would be awesome if we could find a way to help her achieve her dream. There's only the question of how. Overall great posts Ms. T! I can't wait to hear more in class tomorrow!

  7. Ms. T,
    your trip sounded amazingggg !!! In your first blog, I thought it was really funny when you wrote about the high school having a christmas song as their bell, haha ! Also, Yemsrach sounds like such a sweet girl. :)
    I learned so much about your trip and i know you will continue to talk about it tomorrow in class as well

    Can't Wait :)

  8. I gave them the money in shekels, they both brought purses to the swimming pool and after swimming we calculated how much 100$ is in shekels. Then we went to the bakery (this is our swimming pool routine) and they got a sufgania (Hanukah donnut), but there was only one with small candies on it. Yimsrach snatched it and her little friend Amarech started crying, So the PAlestinian boy who works there rushed inside and prepared another one just for her.Life here could be very nice and multiculturalk if it weren't for blood-thirsthy politicians and generals. In the meantime the police is harrassing the PAlestinian neighbourhoods Silwan and Isawiya with unimaginable cruelty.By the way, Shalmi asked Amarech if she liked McDonalds and she said very shrewdly NO because they use children to make their toys. I was very proud of her. Did he say Third World???