Maru Asmare 88 298.
(photo credit: Simon Williams)
When asked if he is happy and successful as an immigrant, Ethiopian immigrant Maru Asmare, 41, couldn't have answered more positively. "As an immigrant, I haven't had any major problems. Things go very smoothly for me. I don't have any complaints. I have been successful until now.
"I don't know what the future holds for me, but I believe that if one wants to succeed, one has to work very hard, and if one works very hard, success is bound to come. I am a hard-working person."
Asmare, now 41, was born in Gondar, a region in the northern part of Ethiopia where the bulk of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) lived. He came from a family of farmers. Like every Beta Israel in Ethiopia, they were tenant farmers - they had to give a certain portion of their produce to the landlords. That was before the revolution which ended the rule of the emperor. In Gondar, the family observed the laws written in the Torah and the Jewish High Holy Days. Here, they are still religious.
Asmare has five sisters and three brothers. He is the second oldest in the family. Most of his brothers and sisters have a college education. The rest are on the way to finishing high school.
"Convincing my parents to send me to school was not very hard for me. After completing elementary school and high school, I joined a teacher training institute to become a teacher. After graduation, I taught and served as an elementary school director. I also taught in a high school. Working as a director gave me administrative skills; teaching helped me to know the needs of students from a close range."
Asmare came to Addis Ababa when he knew that immigration to Israel was a possibility. In Addis, he worked in the Israeli Embassy as a member of a committee established to help organize the mass of people who came from Gondar and inundated the embassy compound.
Asmare arrived in 1991 in Operation Solomon. "Operation Solomon was a miracle. I didn't believe that such a huge mass of people could be airlifted in a short period of time," he reminisces.
Upon arrival he lived in a hotel absorption center and volunteered to help lessen the shock of absorption the new immigrants faced. "The skills I brought from Ethiopia helped me to work with immigrants," he says.
In 1992 he was sent to the US to raise money for immigrants. "The Jewish Agency and Joint Israel asked me if I was willing to go to America as one of their envoys on a campaign to raise money. I immediately agreed. I wanted to see America."
In addition to the knowledge he brought from Ethiopia, Asmare has a certificate in diagnostic testing from Prof. Reuven Feuerstein's institute, which trains teachers to help disadvantaged students.
"I needed the skill. Children from our community need help. I learned how to conduct a diagnostic test, which enables you to identify those with learning disabilities."
He also obtained a bachelor's degree in education from David Yellin Teachers College in 1996.
After graduation, the David Yellin employed him as an educational coordinator and Amharic teacher for Ethiopian students. Together with other Ethiopian teachers, he prepared two Amharic textbooks.
"It's hard to work with Ethiopian schoolchildren here. In Ethiopia, pupils are disciplined and follow the teacher's orders. Here you have to beg them to come to class, to do the homework and the class work you give them," Asmare says.
Currently, Asmare works at the Education Ministry where he counsels parents and students (mainly Ethiopians) who have various difficulties. He also works for Bayit Ham, an organization financed mainly by French Jews and municipalities. It has a network of youth clubs all over the country.
Difficulties notwithstanding, he loves to teach and work with Ethiopians. "If we can't help them, then who can? We who are part of the community must do our share to help them."
Asmare is fluent in Hebrew, English and Amharic. "I studied English in Ethiopia. English is a compulsory subject in Ethiopian schools," he says. "The first time I was exposed to the Hebrew language was here in Israel in the ulpan. Writing from right to left was strange for me in the beginning. But soon it became familiar and easy. Daily conversations with Israelis and my own reading improved my command of the Hebrew language."
Maru divorced after he and his wife arrived in Israel. He has a new girlfriend now. "We are soon going to be married," he says. Like Maru, his girlfriend is also divorced with two children. "I am a divorcee with two children. She also has two from her first marriage. I think it is a good coincidence. It may be good luck for a durable marriage," he laughs.
Apart from work, Asmare reads books and articles that deal with education and educational psychology. "I collect educational articles," he says. "Sometimes when an article strikes me, I write my reflections on it." He attends educational seminars and participates in meetings that have to do with Ethiopians.
From time to time, he goes to Rehovot to visit his children. He buys them gifts on holidays.
Since his divorce, Asmare has been living in an Amigur apartment.
"I live in a three-room apartment. I don't pay much. Apart from the alimony, I don't have a lot of expenses. I don't earn much and I am not rich, but I get enough for my needs."
Asmare lives in Jerusalem's Ramot Bet, a mixed neighborhood. "There are religious and secular people where I live. Except for very close neighbors, I rarely talk to anyone. Even with my closest neighbors, I only have a nodding acquaintance. Everyone lives his own life. I like that. I am at peace with myself. It is a peaceful neighborhood and I like it. Recently my girlfriend came to live with me."
"My closest friends are my brothers and sisters. I visit them once every two weeks. We spend the weekend together. I also have two friends who live in Ramle. They are married people. Once a month they come to me or I go to them. I am close to them because they have nowhere to go to. They have no relatives here in Israel. I know them from Ethiopia."
Maru doesn't wear a kippa, but observes the holidays. "On Shabbat, I am usually in my house with my future wife. We don't cook on Shabbat," he says.
"Even though I love Israel and have studied Hebrew, I feel comfortable when I am among the members of my community. I came to this country too late to be culturally and mentally Israeli," Asmare says. "I am positive my children will be completely Israeli.
"I am not affiliated with any political party or group. If I believe a certain party is good for the country, I vote for it. I am not right, left or center in my political views. I have no ideology."
"I want to help Ethiopian kids who are in dire need of education. Their parents are not educated, and therefore cannot help them with their homework. My duty is to bring the difficulty of the young to the attention of the educated Ethiopians themselves," Asmare says.
"I am an educator by training and love to work in education. Once I get married and settled, I also plan to continue with my education. I am planning to get a master's degree, and perhaps a doctorate afterward. If you work according to plan, you can reach your goal."
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