Monday, February 14, 2011

Return to Arad

Last week, Joel, Jimmy and I drove to Arad with the Director of Young Judaea Israel, Dan Krakow. We took a route none of us except Dan had taken before, and it was a little surprising to be reminded that we haven't seen all of Israel yet. Similarly, every time I meet a Sudanese refugee, I am reminded that I will never understand exactly the pain suffered by the refugees of Sudan, or any refugees from that matter.

We entered a creepy, abandoned-looking warehouse, led by UN program assistant, Alex Brookes, to find four Sudanese men, two college students, two people from the UN, and one woman from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, who incidentally had gone on Year Course when Dan was a Madrich, all waiting to begin a meeting, all determined to make life better for the Sudanese refugees living here.

The meeting began with the Sudanese men explaining exactly how they arrived in Israel.

Tony left South Sudan three years ago. After traveling through Egypt, he arrived in Israel as a safe haven. I can assume he acquired legal refugee status because he now works as a manager of a McDonalds. Tony was a veterinarian when he lived in Sudan. He spoke fluent, perfect Hebrew, with an accent I will envy for the rest of my life. He works hard to provide for his family, and the majority of the Arad community still looks down at him.

There are five different Sudanese tribes that have all settled in Arad, and most of them work under-the-table jobs or clean bathrooms at the Dead Sea.

At the meeting, we came up with ideas to integrate the Sudanese into the Arad and greater Israeli community. The list included events for children, events for teens (educational and sports), cultural festivals and celebrations, and rallies and information. We’ve already started working with the people we met at the meeting to make these things happen and are excited to be implementing them soon.

After two hours of chatting and everyone exchanging stories, one man tried to say goodbye, and had a bit of trouble speaking.

He said, "Thank you so much for coming and listening here to our stories. I feel, for the first time, like I am welcomed here and wanted. Thank you."

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