erez peled 88 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
'I remember my first day of school in Israel," says Erez Peled, 21. "My brother and I were in the car on our way, and a bus full of kids drove by and we heard them screaming 'kushi' at us.
"We thought it was probably just mean Israeli kids, but when we looked up we saw that it was actually Ethiopians," Erez continues, laughing. "We didn't understand it at the time, and we still don't, but it was one of the funniest experiences I've had in Israel."
Born to an Israeli father and Kenyan mother, Erez grew up in a small city in Kenya where he lived with his two older sisters and younger brother.
His father was raised on a kibbutz in Israel before he moved to Kenya, where he worked on a farm for almost 17 years and met his future wife - Erez's mother, a Christian, who worked as his secretary.
The two married and traveled to Israel many times, and Erez's mother quickly fell in love with her husband's native country.
When Erez was nine his parents decided to move to Israel, where they hoped for a better life and better education for their children.
"I don't remember much of when we moved," says Erez. "But I remember everyone was very excited, and we packed up everything we owned and got on a plane to Israel."
Erez vividly remembers landing at Ben-Gurion Airport and noticing the vast difference between his new home country and his old one.
"Everyone was running from here to there, everything was moving very, very fast," he recalls. "In Kenya, life is much slower and calmer."
For the next few years, Erez and his family also moved from place to place, starting at an apartment in Havatselet Hasharon, where his family was welcomed by the small, friendly community. Both his parents found jobs in agriculture.
"Then we moved to Kfar Yona, which was much bigger and much more difficult to adjust to," he says.
One of the more difficult adjustments for Erez was the lack of closeness with family, something he cherished in Kenya.
"Families are very close in Kenya. The whole family - grandparents, uncles, cousins - lives close-by," he explains. "Here it's different. We never see my mother's family, who live in Kenya, and we aren't as connected to my father's family."
Before long his family moved to Gush Katif, where they lived for almost two years with 24 other families in Rafiah Yam.
"It was really nice to live there because of the people," says Erez. "It was a small place and everyone was close and connected to each other. It felt more like home."
Now Erez and his family reside in Katzir, a small town near Afula, where he says they are very happy and have finally adjusted to Israeli life.
Erez finished his military service last August after serving as a commander in the Paratroopers Brigade for three years.
"I loved the army," he says. "You meet all different kinds of people there - all the different types of people who live in Israel are in one place. Everyone meets in the army."
Now he is working at a local gas station and trying to find more permanent work in the center of the country while he contemplates his future plans.
Since he works the night shift, Erez starts work every night at 10 and finishes every morning at 6. He then goes home to eat and sleep until the afternoon, after which he often goes to the gym "to put some life into the day," does chores around the house or hangs out with friends.
Most of Erez's friends, including his girlfriend of three years, are Israeli, he says, because when his family first moved it was very difficult for him to become friends with groups of new immigrants who often spoke their native language to each other. Having met no one else from Kenya or anyone who spoke Swahili, Erez was forced to learn Hebrew quickly, and many of the friends he made upon moving to Katzir are still his friends today.
Growing up in Kenya, Erez's family spoke English in the house, which he still speaks fluently. His once-fluent Swahili has weakened from lack of use but, despite having never gone to ulpan, his Hebrew and accent are perfectly Israeli.
"Everyone always spoke Hebrew with us," Erez says, though he admits that during his first few weeks of school, he had no idea what was going on. "And even though we spoke English, no one else did in the places we lived, so it didn't help."
"I am an Israeli Jew," states Erez. "I was born in Kenya but I'm more Israeli than I am Kenyan. I was just a little boy there; if I went there now I would feel like a stranger. Everything I know and understand is here."
Although he has not been able to visit Kenya since his move to Israel, Erez maintains that when he has children he wants them to know and feel a connection to his country of origin.
Upon making aliya, Erez, his mother and siblings all took classes in Judaism to prepare for conversion. Now, he says his mother "keeps everything" and the rest of the family keeps Shabbat and kashrut in the house.
Though his father grew up secular, after joining his family in their pursuit of Judaism during the conversion process he, too, became more religious and interested in preserving tradition.
"I felt very connected to religion after I converted and I want to keep learning more," Erez explains. "I'm very interested in my religion, and my mother really loves it, and she helps bring me even closer."
"I see my life as divided into three parts: I went through a great change when we moved from Kenya to Israel, and another great change when I finished the army," he explains. "Now I'm in the third part, and I have to figure out the direction I want my life to take."
Though Erez is unsure of what he would like to study in university or what he would like to do in the long term, he is sure of one thing: "I want to build a home in Israel with a family," he states simply. The rest, he'll figure out along the way.
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