"Ima, [Mom] do you have a dream?" 15-year-old Falagush asks her mother as they hang laundry together on the porch. "A dream? I never thought about it…" "I have a dream. I want to be a school principal." "A principal? You can't even do your school work!" "Ima, you don't understand. The Hebrew is hard for me. I'm in ninth grade and there are still a lot of subjects I don't understand. Hebrew, Bible…" "Did you tell the teacher?" "A thousand times. But what can she do? I feel sorry for her. She has five more like me plus 22 faranjiot (white girls). But I will be a principal. I'll change everything." 'Falagush" and her "mother" are characters in a unique play, Hilm, (Dreams) conceived and performed by a group of Jerusalem high school kids of Ethiopian origin. For these young actors, Hilm provides an opportunity to express their experiences, their frustrations and their triumphs, and for the audiences it provides an opportunity to learn something about their lives and aspirations. Billions of shekels have been spent on research, projects, plans and programs to absorb the Ethiopian aliya into Israeli society. And yet, the data remain conclusive: Immigrants from Ethiopia make up the poorest Jewish subgroup in Israel. With 70 percent living under the poverty line, they face tremendous hardships in language, employment, housing and school [see box]. Ethiopian activists say that while the authorities, and especially the municipality, are trying hard and are well-intended, they are not trying in the right way. "When you give Ethiopians a little of the right kind of help that is well thought-out, tailor-made to the individual, deep and long-term - you see a leap in achievement," says Nigist Mengesha, director of the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a $12.3 million project intended to advance young Ethiopian Israelis. She continues, "There are a lot of doctors, but the patient is still sick. It's not for lack of good will. But how many agencies that work with Ethiopians consult with the community? We know what hurts us. We know our priorities. But no one asks. Everyone is yelling about violence among our youth. Has anyone come to the community and asked what the solution is? The responsibility has to be given to the spiritual leadership of the community. "The community has excellent traditional tools. If we include them, we'll see good results," she concludes. Yet, despite these accusations, if the Ethiopian Israeli teenagers from throughout Jerusalem interviewed for this report are any indication, there is good reason for hope, at least in this city. Despite the alarming headlines and the growing numbers of school dropouts, juvenile delinquency cases and teen suicides in the country as a whole, many Ethiopian youth in Jerusalem are industrious, involved and care passionately about succeeding. The play, Hilm, the actors and activists hope, shows Ethiopians in a different light than the public usually sees - the way the Ethiopians want to be seen. Says Meron Tefera, 17, who plays Fanta, Falagush's sister. "People may look at Ethiopians and think we're simple, purposeless ...stam. Everyone has hopes and desires...Everyone wants to fulfill their dream.' Settling Troubles Approximately 4,000 Ethiopians live in Jerusalem, most of them from the waves of immigration in the '90s that brought the "Seed of Israel" (those whose ancestors converted or lived as Christians, sometimes known by the term Falash Mura, [which they consider an insult] to Israel). They live primarily in Talpiot, Kiryat Menahem, the Katamonim and Neveh Ya'acov. According to the municipality, some 1,500 immigrant Ethiopian children attend schools in Jerusalem, and there are an additional 500 youths - and these numbers do not include Ethiopians born in Israel. Run by the municipality and social change agencies, sometimes in coordination and cooperation, numerous organizations attempt to plan for and serve Ethiopian youth. The unit for the Advancement of Youth in the municipality employs numerous counselors who work with youth at risk, especially in Talpiot and the Katamonim. The Elem non-profit organization also provides counsellors, especially in Neveh Ya'acov. Salan (Sport for Youth), also sponsored by the municipality, is a program in which deprived youth, including Ethiopians, can learn sports such as kapuera for free. This summer, a group known as No'ar Beyarok placed dozens of teens in jobs at places such as Yad Sarah and the zoo, and each of them received a stipend. Until recently, the Jerusalem Foundation sponsored a youth leadership program at the Beit Nehemia Center in Abu Tor, but it was recently cancelled due to lack of funds. Shatil, an organization that provides support services to programs supported by the New Israel Fund, has been working for years to empower potential leaders in the Ethiopian community with the tools, skills and experience they need to "take matters into their own hands." Together with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a major partnership between the US Jewish community, the Israeli government and the Ethiopian community in Israel intended to advance young Ethiopian Israelis, Daniel Alemshet, director of municipal absorption, is trying to open an Ethiopian Youth Center in Jerusalem. Such a center, he hopes, would provide a solution to the many educational and social problems they face. Similar centers operating in other communities throughout the country offer computers, counselors, tutoring, trips and so forth. According to the ENP's Mengesha, funds should soon be made available for one such center, most likely at Beit Lazarus in the Talpiot neighborhood. But Beit Lazarus already runs numerous programs, and Shalom Amouyal, director of the Baka-Mekor Haim Neighborhood Administration, which is responsible for Beit Lazarus, says there is a need for a re-evaluation and re-organization of all of the programs, for Ethiopians as well as for veterans. But while officials work out the bureaucratic and administrative issues, allocating funds and responsibilities, local teens say that they feel that the neighborhood administration, "just doesn't want us here." And bureaucratic hassles have always plagued the programs for the Ethiopian community, Mengesha accuses. The ENP, she notes, was supposed to be a joint project between the the US Jewish community, the Israeli government, and the Ethiopian community - but to date, the Israeli government has yet to contribute the NIS 9 million it promised. "Because of bureaucratic problems, how many kids commit suicide? How many become prostitutes? How many get addicted to drugs?" Reading, Writing and Understanding Teacher: "Do you know why I asked you to come in, Wonde?" Wonde: "I don't know." Gets up. Teacher: "Sit nicely!" Wonde: "What for? Leave me alone!" Teacher: "Is that how you speak to a teacher?! What happened today with Shlomi? Why did you fight?" Wonde: "He started it. Why do you always blame me!?" Teacher: "He didn't start it and yesterday, Andalu didn't start and the day before Dana didn't do anything to you. It's impossible to continue like this, Wonde." Wonde: "So we won't continue. Anyway, this school gets on my nerves." He gets up. Teacher: "Just a minute. Where are you going? Tomorrow I want to meet your father, otherwise you can't come to class." Wonde: "My father works from morning to night." Teacher: "It's an opportunity for him to have a little vacation." Wonde: "Vacation? What vacation?!" When Wonde's father comes in the next day, Wonde mistranslates everything the teacher says to make himself look good. When the father smiles and looks proud, the teacher finally asks the Ethiopian mediator to translate for her. Wonde's father grabs his son by the shirt collar and drags him out of the room. Ethiopian pupils in Israel are in a crisis. Some fifth graders can't yet read. Many achieve at levels far below that of their peers. "We haven't succeeded in school," says Shmuel, who plays one of the grandfathers. "We see the rest of the class making progress. They get private tutors when they need them and have parents who can help them with homework. It's frustrating." Adds Monica (Falagush), "We can goof off in school because we know our parents won't understand, they won't come and ask questions." They come from a rural, traditional culture that did not stress literacy or education and arrived in Israel with big educational gaps that the school system has not succeeded in bridging. At the Amit Religious Technological High School in Kiryat Menahem, approximately one-quarter of the 279 pupils are Ethiopian. The students there seem to contradict the common stereotype, if only in the degree of their motivation. Shirli, who graduated last year and now attends an Amit medical secretaries course in Petah Tikva, says she is thrilled that she and her friends were able to graduate with a full matriculation certificate. At Amit, all the girls In Jerusalem spoke with are planning to do the same. Yet in addition to their studies, they all say that they must help at home, taking care of younger siblings, helping to clean and cook. All the older ones had summer jobs. And they note that their parents don't have money for the basics that the girls feel they need: tutoring, fixing their teeth, getting rid of the tattoos of crosses on some of their foreheads, paying for school trips and bus cards. "Even with the discount, many of us can't afford the yearly class trips. So we stay behind. It makes us feel different when we can't go on the trip," says Yigardo, a ninth-grader. Shirli describes her dream. "That we won't be like most of the Ethiopians in Israel and work as cleaners and guards. That we won't feel humiliated the way our parents do." Respectful rebellions Falagush: "Ima, can I go out this evening?" Mother: "Go out? Where?" Falagush: "Just out, to walk around, to hang out, to have a good time." Mother: "What time?" Falagush: "At 8:30." Mother: "8:30 is not evening, it's night!" Falagush, "Please, Ima." Mother: "Who are you going out with?" Silence. Mother: "What's this silence?" Falagush, shyly: "With Yaniv." Mother: "Yaniv? Who is Yaniv? You're not at the age to go out with boys!" Falagush: "But I'm old enough to take care of Gabenesh [her baby sister] when you're at work?!" Mother: "If we had stayed in Ethiopia, you wouldn't have dared speak to me like this." Falagush leaves the porch crying. Her mother continues to hang laundry and says to herself: "She's 15 and already she has boys on her mind. At her age, I…Actually, at her age, I met Shegau. And the person who introduced us was my mother. She didn't let up till I agreed to marry him…" One of the major problems facing the Ethiopian community is the gap between parents and children. In Ethiopia, the father of the family reigned supreme. In Israel, the children learn Hebrew much faster than their parents and are more exposed to Israeli culture. Parents, who are often illiterate even in their native Amharic, depend on their children to translate and mediate for them. This and other factors, including many men's inability to support their families here, leads to parents' loss of self-esteem and authority and a communication gap between Ethiopian parents and Israeli children. While he says that the situation of Ethiopian youth in Israel in general is al hapanimHilm, says his kids are doing fine. "Why?" he asks rhetorically and responds, "because I keep them on a short leash. Kids are kids and they need their family to watch out for them. "Israeli culture is so different from Ethiopian culture. Here, in school, the kids are taught that their parents are not allowed to hit them. In Ethiopia, if a child doesn't listen once, twice, three times, the parent will hit him. Teachers too. "Children there feared their parents and teachers. Here, it's forbidden. "But without this kind of discipline, the kids get lost. Ethiopian parents here are afraid of their kids. If they hit them, the kids file a complaint with the police. Everything here is upside down." In Israel, teenage girls are far freer than they were in Ethiopia, where many Jewish girls married in arranged marriages at 12 and moved away from home to live with their husband's family. But Ethiopian immigrant parents, who come from a traditional culture that emphasizes modesty and respect for elders and especially parents, are far more socially conservative than most of their native Israeli counterparts. The kids in the theater troupe sometimes have to miss rehearsals (not to mention school itself) because they have to help at home. "They take it as a given that they have to help their parents," says Michelle Tsityat, who wrote the play based on the actors' input and directs the performance. "They don't whine, 'But Mom, I have a drama group!'" Unseen voice: "What's your name?" Fanta: "Fanta." Voice: (laughter) "Fanta like the soda?" Fanta: "The soda is named for me." Voice: "Okay, you have a sense of humor. That's already good. How old are you?" Fanta: "16." Voice: "How long have you been in Israel, cutie?" Fanta: "A year." Voice: "A year and already you want to be a star?" (laughter) "Okay, and what will you sing for us?" Fanta sings. Voice: "I think you're lacking a bit of a sense of rhythm." Another voice: "Yes, and also a bit of personality." Voice: "Your voice is a little banal." Fanta leaves, crying. Yitzhak Adamka, a therapeutic counselor who works with the troupe through the unit for the Advancement of Youth, says, "One of the main problems Ethiopian youngsters face is that there is not enough support or opportunities for them to develop their talents in sports, music, singing - whatever they're good at." Perhaps music holds a key to making this possible. The Jerusalem Conservatory of Music and Dance gives full scholarships in music and ballet to promising Ethiopian youngsters. Shula Mola, chair of the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, says it is one of the highest quality programs for Ethiopians she has seen. In other frameworks, youth express their feelings through rap. In a room set aside as a youth club in the Bet Lazarus community center in Talpiot, an Ethiopian teenager presses some buttons on his cell phone and plays rap songs that sound like they were recorded from the radio. They were composed by 18-year-old David, who sits on a nearby couch: My ancestors told me Jerusalem is the Holy City I came and was amazed to find The holiest land had long ago turned Into a field of mines. Accepting Rejection Andalu, the adopted sister of the family featured in the play, is sitting outdoors, drawing. Shani, a non-Ethiopian Israeli girl, walks past, looks and stops. Shani: "Did I scare you?" Andalu: "A little." Shani: "Sorry. This is interesting. I also draw. My name's Shani." Andalu: "I'm Andalu." Shani: "What? You have talent." Andalu: "Thanks. Do you want to see more?" Shani: "Gladly." They look at the pictures together and laugh. Shani: "I learn with Saraf." Andalu: "I learn with Katamon." They laugh. Shani: "You mean Katamon School?" Andalu: "Yes. What grade are you in? Shani: "I'm in ninth and you?" Andalu: "Seventh. Where do you live?" Shani, points: "Here in Mevaseret." Andalu: "It's really close to my house. How come we've never seen each other?" The friendly conversation continues. Unfortunately, it is far from typical. Ethiopians complain that they are frequently called, "kushi." "I always took the word "kushi" as a curse," says Fkado, who plays the boyfriend, Yaniv. "To us it means slave. We used to get into fights over it. But now I understand that they don't mean it. They mean 'black.'" Shirli adds, "What do I care what the kids say? The main thing is that the teachers are nice to me." At recess at the Amit school, the kids hang out in mostly segregated groups. Says Hananel, a non-Ethiopian 12th grader, "They [the Ethiopian kids] mostly like to hang out with each other. They speak Amharic among themselves. I don't have any Ethiopian friends, but there is one I say hi to." The girls from Amit claim they have non-Ethiopian friends, but, with only one exception, they admit that they don't go to their homes. "There was a time when Ethiopian young people wanted to fit in with white kids," says Na'im Tsityat, a youth worker. "Now, they say, 'Who needs it? We tried and tried and we failed. We don't need you." Performing questions The theater troupe, sponsored by the municipal unit for the Advancement of Youth, was written and directed by educator and dancer Michelle Tsityat, who also runs an Ethiopian dance troupe in the Mevaseret Absorption Center. Hilm has already been performed at the community center in Neveh Ya'acov, at the absorption center in Mevaseret, in Beit Shmuel and in a cultural center in Katamon. They have been scheduled to perform in November at the Nurit Katzir theater in Liberty Bell Park. Now in its third year, the theater troupe is only beginning to broach the issue of racism. Other topics that the actors have recently brought to the troupe, in preparation for additional scenes, relate to drugs and crime. Counselor Adamka says, "One of the biggest problems is that we buy apartments in the toughest neighborhoods, neighborhoods full of drug addicts who lure even young Ethiopian children into crime. I see 14-year-olds who are already criminals." A Jerusalem police spokesperson said they do not keep statistics by race, but community members say they are worried about the national rise in juvenile crime rates. As Hilm opens, the entire cast, a family of 12, walks through the audience toward the stage, dressed in traditional Ethiopian outfits. They arrive at their absorption center and look around. Ishfana, the mother, pulls her net'ala (traditional wrap) closer around herself and the baby on her back and says, "It's little cold here. What a responsibility we took upon ourselves! Will our children have it good here? How will they cope with the new language? New friends? Won't it be too hard for them?"

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