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February 16, 1996 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-02-16

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Timid No


Immigrant absorption hasn't
worked as well as many had


ten rough personal treatment they've endured, Ethiopi-
an immigrants have seen their whole social structure
— in their nuclear and extended families — fractured
in Israel.
Says Mr. Messale: "In Ethiopian families, the husband was truly the
master. He was the breadwinner. The wife took care of the children and
the home, and obeyed the husband. Here, the woman can go out to work
and earn money herself. There are cases where the woman earns more
than the man, or where she works and the man doesn't. The husband los-
es his place."
This, Mr. Messale says, has brought on a previously unknown phe-
nomenon in Ethiopian families — divorce. Much worse, Ethiopian hus-
bands account for some 10 percent of Israeli wife-murders in recent years.
In Ethiopia, Jews built their houses next to other members of their ex-
tended families. These were closely knit clans of hundreds of people. "Peo-
ple drew strength, support, protection and identity from the extended
family," Mr. Messale says.
In Israel, they've tried to stay together, but the exigencies of available
housing and jobs have split them up.
Yet on the whole, immigrants who were raised in Ethiopia have the
wherewithal to cope with the eruptions in their lives, says Malka Shab-
ta'i, the Israeli anthropologist. "They don't have an identity crisis," she
says. "They grew up on the dream of coming to Jerusalem (which was
all Ethiopian Jews knew of Israel), and they saw that dream come true.
They suffered unimaginable hardships on the way through Sudan to Is-
rael, they were cut off from their families for seven years, but they made
it. They don't have low self-esteem. And they have the memory of Jewish
life in Ethiopia to act as a buffer for all their difficulties here.
"The danger is with today's youth, the teen-agers," she continues. "They
have no memory of Ethiopia. They're told by their older brothers and
sisters that even though they trekked through Sudan, and even if they

became platoon leaders in the army, it still wasn't enough. The message
these young people are healing from their older brothers and sisters is,
`We're Israelis in every way, but we still haven't been fully recognized as
Jews. We've remained second-class."'

The AIDS Stigma

This bitterness and suspicion brewing in the Ethiopian young is evi-
dent in the words of Esther David. Ever since learning that Ethiopian
blood donations had been destroyed, she said, "I don't trust anyone."
It turns out she's exaggerating, though; there are Israelis she not only
trusts but loves, like Chaim Perry, director of the Yemin Orde boarding
school, where she and many other Ethiopians spent much of their teen
years. "What he taught us gave us the strength to go through each day.
I can't find words to describe how I feel about him."
But she confirms that many Ethiopian immigrants, herself included,
suspect that Ethiopian soldiers reported to have committed suicide in the
army actually were murdered by Israeli soldiers. "Yes, I think it might be
true. Why not? Why would they have killed themselves?" she says.
This irrational suspiciousness of Israeli authorities is proving lethal to
some Ethiopians. Members of the community are enraged that they have
been "stigmatized" as AIDS carriers. But the sad truth is that more than
one-third of Israeli HIV carriers — 545 of them — are Ethiopian immi-
grants, and the community has been slow to address the problem.
Part of the fault lies with ignorance. Kady Broda, an Ethiopian-born
social worker, was quoted in the Yediot Aharonot daily as saying that as
far as most Ethiopian HIV barriers are concerned, "Until they feel the
symptoms of the disease, they are not sick. Go explain to them what a
virus is.
"There are those who've never in their lives seen a condom, and don't
know what to do with it," she continues. "Others simply deny everything,

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