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Thoughts from a Holiday Volunteer

Suellen Zima . . . wanted to be part of the aliyah of Ethiopian immigrants

I was an immigrant in Israel from 1983 to 1989. When the magical airlifts brought Ethiopian Jewish immigrants into Israel, I knew I wanted to be a part of their aliyah. I became a housemother to 42 newly-arrived Ethiopian teenage boys in a boarding school in Maalot. There, during their first year in Israel, I went through the various stages of their introduction to life in Israel.

I left Israel in 1989, but kept up with what was happening with the Ethiopian aliyah over the years mostly through The Jerusalem Post articles a friend in Israel sent me regularly. I finally designed the opportunity to return to Israel in the winter of 2018 and worked out a three-month volunteer position through ESRA to tutor English to Ethiopians in Netanya.

I rented a small room in a home that was only a 10-minute walk to the Mediterranean Sea in one direction, and the same amount of time to walk in another direction to a neighborhood called Azorim where mainly Ethiopians and Russians live. Nina Zuck of ESRA was very kind and helpful in arranging just who and where I would be tutoring.

I began with tutoring a 26-year-old Ethiopian college student who was one of the ESRA recipients of a free apartment in Azorim in exchange for mentoring a small group of elementary students. His studies and mentoring activities took the majority of his time, and he had to quit his English tutoring in the month of February when all Israeli college students undergo a month of testing.

Nina then arranged for me to individually tutor four students for my remaining six weeks in the elementary school. Three were Russians and one was Ethiopian. Because I was in the elementary school, I had opportunities to see a wider range of the problems that the school is dealing with.

My joys in being in the Ethiopian neighborhood were in seeing that the Ethiopian kids of today are native Hebrew speakers and feel at home in Israel. But the continuing complications of limited Hebrew and poverty weigh down the older population. Since the school has Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants, there is some interaction among the children. Outside the school, I personally observed only limited interaction with other Israelis. Sadly, the racism that never existed in all-black Ethiopia has been a factor they have had to deal with in Israel.

The Ethiopians I first met in 1984 were very gentle and patient people. That is definitely not how I would describe the elementary school population. I was told that impolite and even aggressive behavior exists now in almost all Israeli schools, and this school was a tough school from that perspective.

Although my time was limited to only three months, I did get the chance to interact in an Ethiopian community as it exists today. I personally loved the experience of being in an all-Jewish, black/white integrated community that can only be found in Israel. I saw the problems, but also have some hope that the younger Ethiopian Jews will find ways to prosper in our Jewish homeland.

I also turned over the years of newspaper articles and other material I had saved from my earlier years with the Ethiopians to Dr. Simcha Getahune who is involved in setting up a permanent archive in The Ethiopian Jewry Heritage Center.

A very warm thank you to Nina Zuck in ESRA Netanya for the many hours of volunteer work she does on behalf of the Ethiopian Jews there.

Visit Suellen Zima's website: and Follow the Senior Hummingbird as she wanders, wonders, and writes. 



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Monday, 24 June 2024

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