I ran into a lady who I know in the supermarket yesterday. She's a nurse in the local "Tipat Chalav", mother & baby clinic, and I used to know her years ago when I worked in these clinics, doing "hadracha" (guidance) to new mothers and checking children for possible developmental delays.
This lady, Yaffa, told me cheerfully that she'd just received notification that she's going to be travelling for the Jewish Agency and the Health Ministry to Addis Abbaba, to take care of the Ethopian Jews who are awaiting their immigration permits, and are, in the meantime, camped around the Israeli Embassy in Addis Abbaba. They might, Yaffa told me, even be going to Gondor, where an even more rudimentary encampment exists, to start a clinic there.
What an experience! To be able to help these people as they begin their immigration paths! Yaffa doesn't take her job for granted either...she's thrilled to have been chosen (she worked with the Ethopian immigrants in Israel for many years, speaks some Amharic and understands the cultural differences and sensitivities).
How different from my experience, and that of any Western Jew. While our biggest challenge was to fill out forms and deal with the buraucracy of Israel, these people are preparing for their aliyah by being vaccinated against a myriad of diseases that the developed world has never heard of, being taught what running water and doorknobs are, and being prepared to be thrust several hundred years into the future which is just a plane ride away.
Once here, their lives are more secure, in one sense, but more bewildering in another. A gentleman who lives in Tsfat, Yehoshua Sivan, has, on his own initiative, been running a tzdekka fund to help local Ethopian immigrants for over 20 years. This week, I gave a donation to his fund (thanks to some of my terrific relatives who have been helping me!), and he gave me a sheet that lists some of the projects that his fund helps with....subsidizing child care for families where the mothers are studying at a vocational school, helping with dental care, helping with eyeglass expenses, aiding people who need the funds to buy school supplies for their kids...the list is endless. These are people who have known poverty and hunger on a level that we can never imagine, and it's true...they now have money to buy adequate food and maintain an apartment.
But Yehoshua quietly makes sure that they can continue to grow and thrive...a fund to send high school graduates on to the local nursing school to study nursing is a pet project of theirs, as are all sorts of "help with emergency funds", and I am awed by the generosity of time and resources that he and all his little elves put into their work.
My list "who I want to be when I grow up" starts and ends with such people. (Ah well, maybe when I retire....Edyth Geiger, our 85-year-old library-manager/fund-raiser/organizer/policewoman/setter-upper/volunteer coordinator/..., once asked me "what is this town going to do when I kick off?". I promised her that, when I retire....)