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Man With a Beautiful Name

Chaim Malkamu ... he served in an elite IDF unit and is now a law student

Before I tell you about Chaim, I want to share with you my first impression when I came to his apartment in Hefzibah, Netanya —one of the apartments for our ESRA students participating in Students Build a Community project. In this project, a student receives an accommodation scholarship and he/she works with four elementary school-aged children for six hours a week throughout the school year.

As I entered the building on a Friday afternoon to meet Chaim, I had a wonderfully incredible olfactory experience. The various pre-Shabbat smells from pots and pans on the fire, on hot plates and in the ovens were overwhelming and permeated throughout the building's staircase. It was a mixture of exotic aromas and traditional Ethiopian cooking. I walked slowly towards Chaim's apartment in order to truly savor the aroma.

Chaim is a tall handsome young man. He is cheerful and full of smiles. His crisp Hebrew is an excellent example for all of us.

When asked if he has an Amharic name, Chaim told me he did—Malkamu— which means "beautiful". Chaim was born in Addis Abbaba, Ethiopia and his mother loved that beautiful city. Thus she called Chaim: Malkamu.

Chaim's mother made her heroic journey with the family and arrived in Israel in 1991. Chaim was only four months old. When she left with her family, she had no idea how her life would develop. She simply boarded a plane for the first time in her life with other Ethiopian Jews and flew to Israel.

The family first settled in Safed in the north—a town quite different in weather and topography from Addis. The family remained in Safed until Chaim was two years old after which they moved to caravans near Moshav Olish in the central region. They lived there until Chaim was six years old.

The family then moved to the Heftzibah Netanya neighborhood, just in time for Chaim to start kindergarten—the same neighborhood Chaim lives presently as a student in the ESRA project. Heftzibah is a small, primarily Ethiopian Jewish neighborhood in north-east Netanya and is surrounded by modern high-rise buildings.

Chaim attended the Shuvu Elementary School in the neighborhood. The mostly-Ethiopian school prepared him for a successful high school experience where Chaim majored in electronics.

When I asked him if he ever felt any racism or discrimination during his high school experience, he emphatically insisted that he had not.

Chaim served in the IDF in an elite artillery unit and after completing his army service, he began studying at the Netanya College. He is presently in his third year studying law.

Chaim's mother still finds herself talking a lot about the old country in Ethiopia. She was always a very hard-working woman, in Ethiopia as well as in Israel. Since their arrival, Chaim's mother had six more children— eight in all.

In Ethiopia there is no such thing as divorce. After several years in Israel, Chaim's mother and his father did divorce which made their sparse existence even more difficult. With hard work and perseverance, they managed.

Today, Chaim remains close to all his siblings. All of them are single. His mother is 54 years old.

Chaim has kept his Amharic and speaks fluently, a true treasure.

When asked about his future, Chaim smiles and says that he looks forward to a successful future and that in just five more years, after internship and exams, he will be a fully-fledged attorney!

His optimism is contagious.

As our interview was coming to a close it was important for Chaim to thank ESRA for enabling him to study and to be a part of such an important project, Students Build a Community.

I packed up my notebook and we wished each other Shabbat shalom. I enjoyed leaving the building and going downstairs slowly and relishing the wonderful Shabbat aroma of the Ethiopian community. 

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Friday, 09 June 2023

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