These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

More Than Four Faces of Israel | Part 2

Posted on December 28, 2013 by Emma Sevitz

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From my blog:

Sarah Casey Pollack

A few weeks ago, an actress came to Pardes to do a kind of skit, stereotyping Four Faces of Israel, or four different people that one will inevitably encounter in Israel. She portrayed the narratives of a Haredi woman, a settler, a kibbutznik and an Arab woman. Somehow, every experience that I have, everyone that I encounter, draws my mind back to that day. The more I think about it, the more I realize that there is so much more to the melting pot that is Israel because of all of the people that don’t fit into the portrayal. I’m on the Social Justice Track at Pardes, a class designed to teach a wide range of text relating to various social justice topics and show students what’s actually going on in Israel. For the first part, we sit in the beit midrash, the house of study, discussing with our hevrutastudy partner. For the second part, we take field trips, talk to tour guides, but more importantly, talk to individuals.

While the people that we have met have been vastly different, one thing echoes from their collective stories — that they’re happy to tell us their story and wish that we tell it to others. I’ve alluded to these individuals in some of my other blogs, but I wanted to dedicate a series to the stories of these people, with whom I’ve crossed paths.

The second is Tiri, born in Darfur, Sudan. When “the war,” in Tiri’s words, caused him to become an orphan at the age of 10, he escaped to Libya with one of his brothers. He lived, comfortably, in Libya for two years with a family that protected him very well. However, when Libya developed a strong relationship with Sudan, Tiri knew that things would take a turn for the worse. Sudan began to send police forces into Libya, looking for people who had escaped and were taking refuge with families. When they discovered Darfurians, they would capture them and send them back to Darfur. The family that he was staying with knew of 20 kids under 20 that had to be dispersed in order for their lives to be saved.

Tiri was separated from his brother and taken in by a family in Egypt. They were kind and giving, but maybe tried to give a little more than they were able to. With many children of their own, they found it difficult to continue to care for Tiri. He lived there for 2 years and, at that point, the father of the household told him that if Tiri wanted to go to Israel, he would help him. “The situation was getting dangerous. When he told me this, I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know anyone in Israel. Why would I want to go there?” He told Tiri that things would get sorted out once he was in Israel and there would be a community there who would protect and help him. Once Tiri agreed, he made all of the necessary arrangements and sent Tiri to the border.

Tiri was shot at the Egyptian border by an Israeli solder. Maybe it was empathy or pity, but the soldier arranged for him to be sent to a hospital in Be’er Sheva – although his stay was not very long. Still not completely healed, they discharged him from the hospital and sent him to Tel Aviv, where most Darfuri Refugees and other asylum seekers are sent. Given a one-way ticket to the Central Bus Station in South Tel Aviv, people are supposed to figure out things on their own with little to no support system. Tiri found himself in just the situation he had expected – he didn’t know anyone in Israel, what was he supposed to do? Wandering around in search of medicine and assistance, everyone that he encountered rejected his requests. Finally, Tiri came across and older man who took him to “Physicians for Human Rights” in Jaffa.

Once his wounds were properly treated, the same man took Tiri to the office of the UN to apply for a visa to remain in Israel. At the age of 15, Tiri entered school for the first time, without speaking a word of Hebrew. At an Israeli school in Rishon Lezion, Tiri slowly picked up the language and also picked up friends. “Imagine a person who came here when he was only 15. I was very young and had to adjust. It was very difficult.” After numerous visits to the Ministry of the Interior, Tiri was still without a visa or work permit. They cancelled meetings, directed him to other offices, and offered him no assistance. When the time for high school approached, his luck changed. He fell into the hands of a Headmaster who enrolled him into school and assisted him in class. “I had an Ethiopian teacher who spoke English and she helped me a lot.”

Like all Israelis in his classes, he went to Gadna, a trial army experience for 2 weeks and he was hooked. He wanted to serve the country that had aided him so much, country that, without it, he would have been nowhere. “I want to help this country, but I don’t want to live here forever. The place where you were born will never be forgotten. But I don’t want to live here forever. This country and these people have given me everything.” Tiri expressed his deep, deep gratitude to the people of Israel, to the Jews. He then went on to say that all of his friends are Jews and he just wants to be Jewish with his friends. With no family that he knows of, Israel has become his family. Israelis have become his family.

At the same time, he detailed the immense racism that he has experienced living here. He accounted experiences where he witnessed the lack of equal rights, the fact that some Israelis don’t appreciate his presence here and that he felt “women are becoming too liberal in Israel.” He desires a more traditional society as well as one where everyone can be accepted.

Tiri’s story is one of immense perseverance, courage and will power. However, moving forward, it’s one of true hope. Hope that life will get better, that it will become possible for him to return to Darfur, and the possibility that he will receive higher education. In a world where people take the opportunity to go to college for granted, Tiri is someone willing to sacrifice the little that he has in exchange for education. “The Russians don’t even speak Hebrew and their lives are easy and simple. We come, fleeing violence, rape, looking for rights. They do nothing. Help me! Give me education! Let me make change!”