Posted on June 10, 2011 by Avigail H-P
This year at Pardes, I volunteered at the Yaakov Maimon program, & I wrote 2 posts about it on my blog, which I’d like to share here:
I have lots to learn about the Ethiopian immigration to Israel – and will likely start by reading this wikipedia article. But it is especially relevant as I spend every Tuesday afternoon as a “big sister” hanging out in an absorption center just outside of Jerusalem. The family I’m assigned to is a mother about my age, a father I’ve never met and 4 kids (ages 12, 9, 6 and 1.5). I spend most of my time with Mom, the 6 year old and the baby. Mom and I communicate in poor Hebrew (hers is sadly, poorer than mine) and the kids and I make do in Hebrew as well. There’s a lot to say about race and class in Israeli society – but what I’ve observed (in the simplest and most micro terms possible) is that 1) mom doesn’t have a lot of extra food in the pantry; 2) mom is illiterate in Hebrew and Amharic; 3) the playground we play in is covered in broken glass and has no play structures in it. It would be nice if by the end of the year of volunteering I knew a bit more about the experience of Ethiopians in Israel and the process of making Aliyah as a non-Anglo. You can see a couple of photos from my experience here (mostly of my photogenic and charming 6 year-old friend).
Tuesday was our last day of volunteering with the Yaakov Maimon program at the absorption center just outside of Jerusalem. Each week, a vanful of Pardes students went to be big brothers and big sisters to groups of children on the periphery of Israeli society. The people living in Mevasseret are the most recent and the final olim (immigrants) from Ethiopia. The story of this aliya (immigration) is fascinating and worth learning about. Our work involved lots of activities for the children – blowing bubbles, playing ball, making masks for purim, doing homework…the experience was hugely challenging for our group in – what does it mean to be role models for children? How do we communicate with kids with whom we barely have a common language? How are we supposed to welcome them into “Israeli society” when we’re the sojourners and they’re the immigrants? What happens to them after we disappear from their lives? Obviously these are important questions that will remain relevant and I was lucky to have Pardes’ support with time and transportation and other logistical needs that enabled me to do this work. I certainly will miss it.