Rutgers University -African immigrants share experiences in Israel

African immigrants share thier

experiences in Israel

University students mingle with four Ethiopian and Darfurian students who share their experiences immigrating to Israel last night on the College Avenue campus. The event was sponsored in part by Rutgers-Hillel and Israel at Heart.

Four Ethiopian and Darfurian students spoke to University students about life as immigrants in Israel yesterday night in Campbell Hall on the College Avenue campus.

The event, sponsored by Rutgers-Hillel, University’s Residence Life and Israel at Heart, is one of a series the students will speak at in the United States, said Zeke Pariser, the Hillel student board’s orthodox community chair.

“We’re trying to promote a better understanding of what Israel is and who comprises Israel,” said Pariser, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “Cultural diversity thrives there, there are African immigrants. It’s their home, and they are proud Israelis.”

The four Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) students, Shlomit Berhanu, Ruth Metaferya and Dina Lakao of Ethiopia and Adam Bashar of Darfur, discussed how they traveled to Israel from Africa.

Lakao, 25, described the journey her mother took to bring her family to Israel.

“She was pregnant with my oldest brother, and the only way to Israel was to walk through Sudan, through the desert,” she said. “They hid from local people who would often rape, kidnap and rob refugees.”

Metaferya said her family contacted a Jewish-American family for fabricated work documents to show the government, one of the only ways to get permission to leave.

“It’s amazing to see how devoted they were to making their dream come true,” she said.

All four students discussed absorption centers in Israel, which promote integration into society by educating immigrants in the practice of Hebrew and finding work in their new home.

“There are a lot of social workers and professional people helping there,” Metaferya said. “I lived in an absorption center for seven years. We liked it because they had electricity, which they did not have in Ethiopia. It was very hard learning the language, and it still is for some people.”

One student asked Bashar what he thought of life in Sudan compared to life in Israel.

“Soldiers in Sudan were killing people,” he said. “They were against citizens. In Israel, they care. They took me to a base and gave me schooling. I came without documents, now I have them.”

School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Dylan Elber enjoyed hearing Bashar’s account.

“I thought it was interesting to hear from somebody who escaped from Darfur,” Elber said. “It’s a different perspective to be hearing from Jews in Africa, something you don’t always hear.”

Lakao described her military experience as part of her obligation to serve as a female immigrant.

“I was a social worker for seven months. I helped soldiers with economic and medical problems that might effect their service,” she said. “I resolved those problems and worked with commanders on the Lebanon border.”

In Israel, female immigrants are required to serve two years in the military, and male immigrants are required to serve three, Lakao said.

“I saw many problems, but I saw a beautiful way to gather all the multicultural immigrants in the army,” she said. “I’m a black woman, but I commanded men in my army.”

All four students were thankful for Israel’s help, especially to the scholarships they have received to study at IDC in Israel.

“It’s nice for us at Rutgers who have been hearing a lot of negativity about Israel to hear about your positive experience,” said Nataly Weiss, Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus co-educator in partnership with Hillel.

Berhanu said despite the rumors, Israel is not racist or separatist.

“I believe Israel is not a racist country,” she said. “There is no law against black or Ethiopian people. We get full scholarships. Not many countries give such help to minority groups.”

Lakao said Israel is not an apartheid state since it is the only democratic country in the Middle East.

“When you say apartheid, I think of no votes and no free speech,” she said. “We can vote, and we’re free to express ourselves. The government gives opportunities and rights to every person just for being a human being.”

Lakao, who is studying law and government at IDC, is an intern at the largest law firm in Israel and hopes to run her own law firm someday.

“I want to be a highlight for my community, so people will see what I’m doing and follow,” she said.

Hannah Johnson, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, thought the speakers’ messages were important to hear.

“I thought it was an awesome perspective to get,” she said. “You don’t usually hear it, but it’s really important that you do.”

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.