Over the next 8 months we will publish a weekly blog post written by a Yahel Social Change Fellow. Today’s blog post was written by Felecia Chatman, a fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rizhon LeZion.
What if the place you once called home was never really where you were meant to be. All that you’ve known has been taken away or is inhabitable or destroyed, and what once was is now gone forcing you into your promised land. What if that promised land required you to trek by foot to another country or illegally move to another country before acquiring legal documents for citizenship. This is just a glimpse into what was a reality for many Ethiopian Israelis who made Aliyah during the late 1980s and 1990s to return to their promised land—Israel.
Residing in Ramat Eliyahu in Rishon LeZion, Israel opened me up to a whole new world. Prior to living in Israel, I was unaware of the journey of the Ethiopian community. Their journey is one of heartbreak, pain, stress, and sometimes danger but it is also one of resilience, hope, and triumph.
During the Succot holiday I had the pleasure of being invited for dinner by a local Ethiopian family to participate in Succot. This family, just as many other families embraced me with open arms. After we finished dinner, I had the opportunity to talk with the host family and hear about the parents' journey to Israel. The father started his journey to Israel when he was only eighteen years old (over twenty-five years ago). He walked from Ethiopia for ten days, resting a few days after and continued this pattern for over a year until he reached Sudan. Once in Sudan it was still uncertainty as the father tried to make his way to Israel. Once foreign aid arrived, he, along with hundreds of others was flown to Israel. They had finally made it to their promised land. Upon arrival they faced many challenges like cultural shock, language barriers, and even discrimination, by some, but these challenges never stopped them then and even now as many continue to work within their community and with organizations to help one another strive for success. Their journey continues as the parents raise their children reminding them of their journey to the promised land and to embrace both their Ethiopian and Israeli roots.
I am fortunate to be an eye-witness to what is going on in this community and to see, hear and share their story with others outside this neighborhood.