Miri Maoz-Ovadia
Miri Maoz-Ovadia Miri Maoz-Ovadia, married to Shlomo and mother of Naveh, lives in Neve Tzuf. She is the overseas spokespersons coordinator for the Binyamin Regional Council. Thursday 7.5.15 No comments 2184 views

When They Called Me Tsahainesh

Every person has a name

Given by God

Given by their mother and father

Every person has a name

Given by their stature and the way they smile

(Zelda)

I have a name that the teens I was in charge of gave me when I was doing National Service. Tsahainesh. A funny 12th grader named Avi Talala decided that my blonde hue and my smiles reminded him of the sun, which is Tshai in Amharic.

Since he was quite an Israeli Ethiopian, having been in Israel for many years already, his name ‘Avra’ became Avi, and my name Tsahainesh also went back to its Hebrew original – Shemesh. Many of the other teens I worked with at Mikveh Yisrael also had two names. The name given to them by their parents, and the name chosen by their kindergarten teacher because it sounded closest to their original name, and mainly to make things easier for themselves and the other children…Two names, expressing two identities attempting to become one.

It was an especially unique year of sun, that year at Mikveh Yisrael. Mikveh Yisrael is an agricultural school which has been used for many years now as an absorption center for groups of immigrants. The first significant group of immigrants to arrive there was over half a century ago, made up of European children; today, the groups of teenagers arriving there are primarily children of immigrants from Ethiopia and the USSR.

This was my first, most meaningful encounter with Ethiopian culture. Young men and women with delicate souls but bubbling with energy on other levels. They made a very clear distinction between the “immigrants” and the “seniors.” The immigrants, who kept their original  names, who were in Israel for only a few years and preferred speaking Amharic among themselves, listening to Amharic music at full blast, braiding each other’s hair until the middle of the night, woven with purple, red and brown hair additions. “They are immigrants, and we are not,” the seniors informed me – girls who had arrived in Israel when they were kindergarten-aged, who preferred listening to pop music like all of their Israeli friends, with a slight preference for rappers and female singers like Beyoncé.

We learned a lesson about forcing them to integrate when we tried to purposely mix the roommates in the dormitory, making them mix with the other girls, help each other and integrate, to be a part of a united group. We hung the lists of new roommates on the wall, told them that by that evening, each one of the 32 girls would have to pack up her belongings and move to a new room, and we escaped to the shopping mall to wait for the storm to pass. When we came back at 10 o’clock at night, lights-out time at the dormitory, we were met by a stubborn revolt, and it took many more days until the dorms were once again a quiet place.

That year brought many new concepts and meaningful experiences into my life. My encounter with the delicate parents, the house visits which included tasting injera and dabo (bread), my first exposure to economically disadvantaged families with simply furnished meager homes, and the amazing, respectful hospitality. Meeting those parents for whom the most important thing in the world is that their children earn a matriculation certificate from high school, learn a profession and integrate well, even when they never attended a school in their lives. Dealing with teens who drank alcohol and smoked mass quantities of cigarettes from a young age was new to a sheltered girl like me who was unfamiliar with these things. Sixteen year old girls were often the connecting link between their parents and life in Israel, escorting them to the health clinic, the bank and the National Insurance Institute and fighting the battles for their parents – in Hebrew.

I follow the news about the protests of the Ethiopian immigrants, and my heart is with them. My body should have also been with them, I admit, but unfortunately it just didn’t happen. I watch the news every night and really get angry at the media, which fans the fire and turns the side issues into the main focus – the violence, the racism of the police officers, the new social protest. The main thing needs to be our own reality check as a society, to examine how to take down the barriers and allow this community to be a part of us and us to be a part of them.

Credit: The Israeli Union for Ethiopian Jewry 

We, Israeli society, are losing them. Losing these people who did everything to reach Israel, and cry in emotion on the Sigd holiday when they ascend to Jerusalem; who love Israel so much, but are hurt by it again and again. We are losing these young people whose only dream is to don the olive green and blue uniforms and serve in the army, but are lost when the system fails to understand that they have problems with the payments for soldiers, since some of them are the only breadwinners for their entire families. We lose them when they are branded by the police as a problematic population. We lose them again and again at universities, workplaces, in the public scene, for reasons which I don’t know how to point to and give a clear name, but the facts are out there.

I am proud of them, those teenagers from ten years ago. Today, they are already adults. They are social activists and they insist on those values which are important to them. They go out to protest and want to take responsibility for their future, for their community and for the next generation.

Ten years have passed, and in the era before Smartphones, it was hard to keep in touch when we switched phones at the same rate we changed our socks. Today, I see them occasionally on Facebook; I want to primarily use this post to say to you all how proud I am of you. I feel that your struggle is our struggle, and I hope that together, we will succeed in bringing about the change that you so deserve and that we all deserve as one, united Israeli society.

               

 

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