"We wouldn’t be able to make it if each person fought on his own. We must join forces.”
I remember this saying to this day, and it was this sentence that was in my mind when I tried to decide what project I should take as part of my school obligation.
This sentence was said to me by "R," a young Ethiopian girl and a social activist protesting against racism directed at Ethiopian Jews in Israel. When I asked her what she meant by that, she told me that we should join forces with the Sudanese, with the Eritreans and all Africans in Israel in order to fight the social and institutional racism we experience on the basis of our skin color.
I realized that I didn't know much about what the asylum seekers who reside in Israel experience. This small talk, in the middle of a busy street in Netanya, is what motivated me to choose to intern at JACC as part of my social work studies.
I began my experience as a tutor with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was certain that our common skin color would help me get closer to the family. On the other hand, my family story as a Jew is very different from theirs.
Before meeting the families, we tutors learned some important facts about the asylum community in Jerusalem, which included figures, definitions, the difference between the terms "asylum seeker" and a “refugee.”
We also learned about their social situation and the complicated attitude of Israelis towards asylum seekers.
Feeling more confident with the knowledge I had gained, I was assigned to two incredible four and five year old girls.
They were both born in Israel, their parents are separated, and their mother has raised them by herself.
There was an instant connection. I felt like their big sister, and felt the need to protect them, teach them Hebrew and aspects of Israeli culture, take them to trips and allow them to gain experiences like every other Israeli child of their age.
Every encounter I had with them was empowering for me, but at the same time left me with a huge void. Their situation in Israel, and the frustration I felt from the state's behavior towards them, the way some Israelis treat them, and their financial difficulties, we hard to take.
Nonetheless, the girls were always joyful, curious, happy to play and to have fun. The encounters I had with their mother, talking to her about her experiences and feelings, were also meaningful for me.
This was an empowering experience that made me think a lot about what I can do to improve the current situation.
Is joining forces the right way?
I am left with many more questions, with a good memory from this experience and a lot of knowledge I had acquired.
I am grateful for this opportunity.
This month, JACC is raising money so that volunteer tutors can continue to provide support for more children. 65% of the asylum-seeking community’s children in Jerusalem do not receive services from JACC because of limited resources. Help us expand today. Please donate and spread the word via email and Facebook.