David Bernstein of the Israel Reform Movement has recommended that we co-sponsor a Hosen – a Resiliency Center – in Sderot. It has 24,000 people from North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. There are 130 Ethiopian families, some 600 people. It is a depressed development town that has been the target of endless, frightening Hamas rockets from Gaza over the past 15 years.
The project has 3 goals: a) to meet direct human and social needs, while developing resiliency and self-reliance; b) to develop life skills in areas such as parenting, family financial management and women’s health; and c) to build leadership capacity to see problems as challenges and to address them together.
Sefere is an incredibly well-spoken and vital Ethiopian woman. At age 12, she came to Israel with Operation Solomon in 1991, lived in a trailer for a year and then in Sderot public housing. At 30, she went back to school to earn a Master’s in Social Work. For the past two years, she has worked as a Community Social Worker.
Sefere is part of an Ethiopian Women’s group that began in 2013. JHH is helping to reinvigorate it. The women receive aid to meet their needs and more to share with others. They meet for two hours on Sunday evenings and are so anxious to get together that they find ways for child care.
With some animation, Sefere talks about the discrimination she and other Ethiopians have experienced. At one point, she and an Ashkenazi fellow student went to get their grades. The teacher assumed that the higher grades had to be those of the other student. It took her a long time to convince him that he was mistaken.
“Demonstrations are necessary to draw attention to what we have to deal with each day,” she says. Israelis were surprised that the usually compliant Ethiopians would stand up and shout their angry feelings. Without this attention to racism in Israel, the situation will never change.
It takes a lot of “resilience” to confront the challenges of being an Ethiopian Israeli woman.
The long-term goal is to enable women to lead in the community. Sefere can see it being fulfilled slowly as they come more and more into their own. They need to see themselves as the equals of men, capable of doing anything they choose to do. JHH can see it in them already.