Rabbi Conover – Week 2 in Israel

This week at Hartman, we took our exploration of Justice outside of the classroom and into Israeli society.  Some colleagues went to south Tel Aviv to learn more about the issue of African Asylum Seekers.   Others focused on the inclusion of the physically and mentally challenged in Israel.  I went to the town of Kiryat Gat (Chicago’s sister region through JUF) to find out more about the issues that the Ethiopian Jewish community continues to confront.  This seemed especially relevant after the protests of racism by the Ethiopian community in Tel Aviv which coincided with the protests of racism in Baltimore.  http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-failed-ethiopian-community-president-says-at-memorial/

We spent the morning at the Kiryat Gat Ethiopian Synagogue with a Keis (a Holy Leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community), Rabbi Sharon Shalom who came from Ethiopia to Israel by himself when he was eight years old, and Micah Feldman, chief architect of Operation Solomon and lifelong advocate for the Ethiopian community in Israel.  Each shared heroic personal stories. Most touching to me was hearing over and over again that the Ethiopian Jewish culture cherished and took care of parents above all other people in their community.

After lunch, we visited ATachlit, a grassroots initiative to help empower senior Ethiopians by providing work for and strengthening of the social standing of the senior population in the Ethiopian community.  Unfortunately, it has been a struggle to maintain the valuing of parents in contemporary Israeli society.  Therefore, this effort has been a God-send to this community.  I was exceedingly proud to know that JUF has been a major funder of this project.  Our community’s dollars are currently being invested in the next phase of this project: a learning center on the farm for Ethiopian culture where Ethiopian Israeli youth can learn about and take pride in their own culture.  They gave us an incredible gift by sharing their culture through blessings over delicious, sweet bread in their holy language called Ge’ez.

Our final visit for me was most profound and most hopeful.  We spent time at Tech Career College in Kibbutz Nachshon dedicated to bringing Israeli youth with Ethiopian roots into the hi-tech community.  Its dynamic director, Naftali Avraham, connected his own personal perseverance through the dangerous journey from Ethiopia to Israel with his life’s work.  He has realized that the gap in members of the Ethiopian community in hi-tech is not a result of their lack of intelligence, but their lack of access to this industry and the basis of knowledge it requires.  Therefore, Tech Career annually admits about 25 promising Israelis with Ethiopian roots just after their time in the IDF.  It gives them the knowledge, mentors and community to support them in bridging this gap.  This venture has been extremely successful.

Naftali Avraham went to Tel Aviv in May to stand in solidarity with the protesters against racism even as he daily works to improve Israeli society by investing in these youth.   He provides all of us a powerful model for how to effectively work for social change.