Shlicha's/Shaliach's View

Ethiopian aliyah stories resonate amid protest

Oshrat Barel
Oshrat Barel

Ethiopian protest in Israel

It’s been more than 30 years since the first immigrants came from Ethiopia to Israel. As a young teenager I remember the new immigrants coming to the merkaz klita (absorption center) in Revaya next to my hometown. My mother volunteered as the chair of the local Women’s International Zionist Organization chapter, so she helped resettle the new immigrants and occasionally took me to visit them at the absorption center. Many years later I worked with Ethiopian children and their families from all over the northern part of Israel. I got to know a very quiet and shy community, beautiful people both inside and outside, who hold a lot of sadness at losing everything that was familiar but also are very happy to have fulfilled their ancestors’ dream of making aliyah.

I was moved by a young woman I met back then named Chava Alamo. She told me her story of making aliyah when she was 12, with only her brother and some of their friends, by foot. She arrived in Israel and was sent to an absorption center and then to a boarding school. She met her fiancé there; a few years later they got married and now they have seven children. When I met her I knew right away she was special; she had a dream, a clear vision. She wanted the story of the Ethiopian community to be told, to be heard. She wanted Ethiopian children to be proud of their heritage, their traditions, their language, even if they no longer spoke Amharic.

With another friend and some amazing women, young and old, 12 years ago we created the Roots Theater. None of the women who participated were actors, but they all presented their stories of making aliyah by foot — stories of yearning for the Holy Land, for Jerusalem of Gold. Each of them had a different story, moving, funny, sad. The performance touched audiences deep inside. It was a huge success and Chava was ready for the next step. She said: I no longer want people just to hear my story; I want them to experience it. In her backyard in Beit Shean she created the Ethiopian Heritage Center, where visitors from all over Israel and the world come to experience life in the Ethiopian village. Luckily, many people from Tucson who’ve visited Israel over the last two years were gracious enough to include the Ethiopian Village on their itinerary. No one came back disappointed.

Chava was and still is my source of inspiration. As the May 3 rally in Tel Aviv by Ethiopian immigrants protesting discrimination made clear, her project is needed today more than ever.

Israeli culture

Hour of Grace” by Yehuda Amichai

This beautiful and powerful poem came to life last week at our Partnership2Gether retreat. Representatives from different organizations here in Tucson came together with representatives from our partnership region to discuss our new partnership, its goals and purpose and to propose new programs. I felt it was an hour of grace for us. As the words of the poem say, I felt we were creating a new world.

I used to think it could be solved this way:

like people gathering in the station at midnight

for the last bus that will not come,

at first just a few, then more and more,

that was a chance to be close to one another,

to change everything together,

to start a new world

First WIC trip to Israel

Want to get to know Israel? You can read books, go to lectures, meet with people who just came back and hear their stories or GO by yourself or with friends and family. That is by far the best way to get to know Israel and you probably don’t need me to tell you this. The Weintraub Israel Center will, for the first time, take a group to Israel in February 2016! The fully guided trip will allow first timers to enjoy all the must-see sites and also allow those who’ve already visited to find unique ways to discover Israel. The trip is open to all faiths and ages. Jeff Artzi and Steve Weintraub, the WIC chairs, will lead the trip together with Denise Wolf, vice president of the Tucson Jewish Community Center, and me.

If you would like to know who has already registered and learn about the itinerary you can contact me or Denise. You can also find the itinerary on our web page at

Oshrat Barel is Tucson’s community shlicha (Israeli emissary) and director of the Weintraub Israel Center.