This month is, for Americans, Thanksgiving. While I haven't paid much attention to Thanksgiving in the past (don't like football and don't want to cook a turkey) I do appreciate the concept of stopping to give thanks every once in awhile.
This evening I attended a meeting of the Committee for Ethiopian Jews in Safed. It's headed by a long-time Tzfat resident, Dr. Sivan, who established the committee in the '80s when he realized that the new immigrants were struggling with many financial challenges that most of us never consider.
The vast majority of Ethiopian olim came to Israel with the clothes on their backs and little else. Although their rent and living expenses are subsidized by the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry for their first 2 years, they're expected to start self-supporting after those first two years. With minimal skills and, often, limited Hebrew, that leaves them with, if they're lucky, minimum wage jobs.
I don't know about anyone else but I would find it very hard to survive on minimum wage. I don't buy new clothes (second-hand only), don't travel or take vacations and buy basic food -- nothing fancy, though i do try to pack in a lot of fruits and vegetables.
But I'm lucky. I'm proficient in English -- a valued skill -- and have enough clients for my writing/marketing work that allows me to stay busy. Even with all of that, I barely meet my living expenses every month. What do people do who don't expect anything other than minimum-wage work, often physical, tiring and depressing?
I know that this situation isn't limited to Ethiopians but, as a community, they're probably the most vulnerable community in Israel. There are no family members around to give them a hand because their family members are generally just getting by week by week as well. When my son tutored Ethiopian kids as part of his volunteer work for his university studies he told me that the kids seem to have no hope. They're bright, but they look around and see no future.
I'm a committee member for the Committee for Ethiopian Jews in Safed. I try to donate whenever I can but, listening to Dr. Sivan speaking about the need of so many families, it just feels like a drop in a bucket.
For instance, he mentioned the case of a mother who's studying at the Safed nursing school -- she lives about half an hour from Safed, so she has travel time and expenses and is working several nights a week, in addition to her studies, to bring some income into her household. when does that poor woman sleep? She obviously wants to build a better life for her family, but how is she going to do that with all of her responsibilities?
Those are the kinds of situations that exist within a 10-minute walk of my house. I feel horrible that I can't help more. It's true, I don't throw money around but I do have a roof over my head and food on my table. My bills get paid on time and if we need something, we buy it.
So maybe I will pay a little attention this year to Thanksgiving, even from 7000 miles away.