February 20, 2015

Our mosaic, Eretz Israel

Their lives are too hard. They are so sweet and know so little. They’re like my children.
Learning how to tell time.

These are the words of my 19-year-old daughter, Aviva, who is talking about the Ethiopian soldiers she supervises. All are all new immigrants to Israel.

Aviva started working as a mefakadet (sergeant) in the IDF last April and her job in the army is to take her soldiers through basic training with the goal of helping them advance to higher units in the IDF.

Her other big challenge is to acclimatize these new immigrants to a life in modern day, stressful, urban Israel. When the soldiers arrive on her base, they come with multiple challenges; they have very limited Hebrew language skills, most of them are illiterate, they are poor and are under intense personal stress in their family lives.

Proud to be a yehudi
Before entering the army, some of these boys were the only income earners in the family. Many are orphans or come from broken families, having a Christian parent stranded in Ethiopia. They live in destitution and are under much stress.

And so they arrive at Michve Alon, my daughter’s army base. They range from18-25 years old although they’re not even sure of their ages, because in Ethiopia no one recorded their birth dates. 

This is a heavy load for a 19 year old (who just graduated from high school) to carry. After three months of army training, she now finds herself wearing many hats: social worker, sergeant, financial planner, Hebrew teacher, therapist and mother hen.

Despite the challenges, this is important, life changing work. These Ethiopian soldiers must be placed into their own separate unit because they are new to Israelis culture and speak little Hebrew.
Learning colors

According to one report commissioned by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption in 1999, 75% of the Ethiopian Beta Israel community could not read or write Hebrew and half of them could not have a simple conversation in Hebrew.  
Many come from a rural, agrarian culture and arrive with no job skills. The rural Ethiopians had never used electricity, never seen a TV nor used an elevator. Having been cut off from the Jewish world for two millennia, many did not know the Second Temple had been destroyed.
Geography lesson

So innocent, they had also never heard about the Holocaust. They were in total shock when they learned about the calculated deaths of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis and started to cry. 

It is sometimes hard to burst their bubble, for we live in a mean world and they live in a pure one. Yet their military service here in Israel opens windows and worlds and increases their options for a better life. 

Their lives are too hard. They are so sweet and know so little. They’re like my children.

Israeli mosaic: a new Ethiopian soldier befriends a new Russian-Israeli soldier.
My daughter listens, praises, helps and learns. Step by step, her soldiers move onward and upward, carving out a place for themselves in this modern day miraculous mosaic called Eretz Israel.

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