Lisa, Maguire Fellow in Israel

Lisa is a senior majoring in markets and culture in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, with a minor in education in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development. She is working on an Engaged Learning project during summer 2014 and also was awarded a Maguire and Irby Family Foundation Public Service Fellowship from the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at SMU. She is volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel.

A Markets and Culture perspective on immigration

After serving with The Ethiopian National Project (ENP), whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel, I asked myself one question: Why do Ethiopian-Israelis have a harder time integrating into Israeli society than other immigrant groups? Coming from a Markets and Culture perspective, I realized that one very influential reason is that there is a huge culture gap between Ethiopian-Israelis and Israelis. Transitioning from a “developing nation with a rural economy” to a “Western country with a high-tech market economy” does not come without its problems (“History”).

Israel maintains a very innovative, high-tech economy, having “the highest concentration of engineers and research and development spending in the world” (Senor & Singer, 9). Not only that, but “more Israeli companies are listed on the NASDAQ exchange than all companies from the entire European continent” (Senor & Singer, 11). With all of its innovations, it is no wonder that one of Israel’s leading exports is high-technology equipment (“Middle East: Israel”).

Ethiopia, however, is still a developing country and the innovations the majority of Israelis can enjoy may only be experienced by the rich minority in Ethiopia. Agriculture is central to Ethiopia’s economy and “accounts for 46% of GDP and 85% of total employment” (“Africa: Ethiopia”). Rather than getting attention for its technology, Ethiopia has received foreign demand for its textiles, leather, and coffee (“Africa: Ethiopia”). Acquiring skills and finding jobs in a country that has a completely different economical focus than your native country is difficult and is one of the challenges immigrating Ethiopians face.

Another difference between Ethiopia and Israel is that Ethiopia is a collectivist society and Israel has evolved into a more individualistic society. Israel has a collectivist history, apparent by organizations such as its Kibbutzim, which are communal agricultural communities where people share the property and wealth. In the kibbutzim’s earlier days, even children lived in communal children’s houses. However, today Kibbutzim have become more individualistic with more individual choices such as housing options and educational pursuits. Most kibbutzniks, people who live on kibbutzes, make and enjoy their own salaries instead of salaries going directly into the Kibbutz’ ownership and then being shared evenly among its members. In an individualistic country, individuals tend to focus on the individual rather than the whole group. They pursue their own personal goals rather than group goals. In Ethiopia, emphasis is placed on the group. The group’s etiquette, norms, and values tend to align with each other. Trust is given to the group and everyone in the group looks after each other. Perhaps if Ethiopians had immigrated at an earlier time when the collectivist Kibbutz was prevalent, their assimilation might have been a little easier.

Israel is also a low-context country. Low context countries tend to have a need for order. Life is governed by laws. Business agreements can occur through written agreements even with strangers. There is high trust among Israelis because each Israeli believes others will follow the same rules they live by. This is opposite of a high-context country such as Ethiopia, in which trust must be earned before agreements and other transactions can occur. Nepotism is very common in high-context countries, which makes it even more difficult for Ethiopians who may be moving away from their family and friends with whom they have already built relationships with or with integrating Ethiopians into Israeli neighborhoods where they might be further away from other Ethiopians.

Israel is a very low power distance country, meaning decision making can happen on all levels of society and status is not very important. Israel is a country “with fewer class differences than most” and a big reason is this low power distance aspect (Senor & Singer, 52). Israelis have a lot of chutzpah, a word similar to assertiveness which can mean “incredible guts.” Chutzpah is seen in the way “university students speak with their professors, employees challenge their bosses, [and] sergeants question their generals” (Senor & Singer, 30). The attitude of chutzpah further closes the gap between Israeli citizens and Israeli authority figures. Another way in which people in positions of power continue to stay close to home is the use of nicknames. Israelis commonly use nicknames and authority figures are no exception. Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known as “Bibi” (Senor & Singer, 31).

All of this is the opposite of the high power distance Ethiopia where decisions made by authority are not usually questioned. Class systems are prevalent in Ethiopia and may be based upon age, wealth, gender, or ethnicity. There is a huge gap between the rich and poor and status is very hierarchal. Social interactions reflect this hierarchy. For example, religious and political figures are seen to possess more authority than teachers or other workers, and this authority is not challenged. There also seems to be a lack of trust between people in positions of power and those with less power, such as the government and its people. The youth at my center definitely had no problem talking back to their counselors, they are already learning about chutzpah. I can imagine how this might disrupt their life at home, where kids are expected to obey their elders.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) play a huge role in Israel’s low power distance culture. Army service is required for both men and women at the age of eighteen (exceptions may include Israeli Arabs and Hasidic Jews). Although duration of service may differ depending on which unit one enters, women typically serve for approximately two years while men serve for about three years. After completion of these required years, Israelis continue to serve in the army reserves for a few weeks out of the year. Although specific army units have different levels of prestige (similar to the way different universities in America have different rankings), the IDF has a lack of hierarchy which generates a lack of hierarchy in civilian life (Senor & Singer, 52). Unity is created through compulsory army service, where people share the common experience of sleeping in bare tents or going without showering for days, and places Israelis on equal footing. Not only this, but the IDF unites under fighting for the “existence of their country” (Senor & Singer, 54). This equal footing diminishes the gap between those in positions of power and those who are not.

In Ethiopia, army service is not compulsory and as a result, the same equal footing that Israelis experience is not seen in Ethiopian society. Ethiopians also do not possess the same assertiveness and questioning that Israelis do. Even those that voluntarily join the military would not question generals, sergeants or others in officer positions as Israelis might do. Ethiopians must adjust from a country with voluntary army service to a country where the army is not only compulsory, but its culture also greatly emphasized even beyond the military itself.

There are national cultural differences and there are familial cultural differences. Ethiopia is a male-dominated society and elders are respected. In Israel, the youth of Ethiopian-Israeli children have adapted faster than their parents due to their young age and exposure to Israeli culture in schools and other places. Because of this, they have a better understanding than their parents of the language and cultural customs of Israel. This causes parents to rely on them, creating a role reversal where the children act as the “head of households” (Kaplan & Hagar, 136).

Ethiopian women are encouraged to take a greater role in Israel than in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, women do not have as many freedoms in the male dominated society. However, in Israel women are given more responsibility and autonomy than in their native country (Kaplan & Hagar, 136). Ethiopian-Israeli women now have the choice to make decisions about their education and family, for example, how far they would like to pursue their education, or the number of children they would like to have. More of them work outside of the home and they all join the Israeli army. To see women with so much independence from men would be very unusual in Ethiopian society. The loss of control males once had in Ethiopia causes them to be resentful (Kaplan & Hagar, 136). These new cultural behaviors often clash with their old ones and adjusting is difficult.
Ethiopia is a collectivist, high-context, high power distance country whose economy is agriculturally based. Israel is the opposite – an individualistic, low-context, low power distance country with an innovative high-tech economy. These cultural differences play a huge role in the current struggles of Ethiopian-Israeli integration into Israeli society.

Works Cited:
“Africa: Ethiopia.” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web.

“History: In the Beginning.” Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, n.d. Web.

Kaplan, Steven, and Hagar Isaac. Salamon. “Ethiopian Jews in Israel: A Part of the People or Apart from
the People?” Jews in Israel: Contemporary Social and Cultural Patterns. Hanover: Brandeis UP, 2004. 118-48. Print.

“Middle East: Israel.” Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web.

Senor, Dan, and Saul Singer. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. New York: Twelve, 2009. Print.

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Three girls’ nights, three learning experiences

There have been many highlights during my time at ENP, but some of my favorites were the girls’ nights that I planned and led. The girls’ nights were my way of building self-confidence within the girls as well as developing unity between them. Each girls’ night we would eat food from a different culture and then participate in various activities.

For the first girls’ night I had planned for the girls to each make their own pizza on pita bread, decorate their own journal, create a family crest, and have fun with a few icebreakers and games. Being the first time I was leading a girls’ night, the evening came with some unexpected struggles. Not all of the girls wanted to participate in all of the activities and sometimes they got off task. Their lack of focus was further perpetuated by the unproductive translating between the other volunteer and me at times when translation was needed. Furthermore, there was a miscommunication between the counselor and myself – I thought all of the girls were each going to make their own pita pizza, but instead the counselor had made all of them herself as a snack for everyone and we didn’t eat until the end of the night.

In the end I know the girls had a good time, but I also knew that there were many things I wanted to improve for future girls’ nights. The counselor, the other volunteer (who helps translate), and I debriefed the night right afterward and talked about what we needed to improve upon for next time. I once read that the debrief of an action is just as important as the action itself, and our girls’ night debrief was very important to having a successful second girls’ night.

The second night was much improved! The counselor and I had better communication, making sure we both understood what we expected from each other for the second night. The other volunteer and I had worked out a way for translating to be more efficient. This time I had decided it would be better to eat first since the girls might be more focused on full stomachs. It worked.

We started off making falafel together. If you are not familiar with falafel, they are fried chickpeas shaped into a ball. Usually you put falafel balls in a pita with tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, and more. The girls were assigned different tasks such as cutting the vegetables or setting the table. The teacher in me found it interesting that each girl had her own unique way of cutting the vegetables. One girl cut a cucumber in vertical slices and then cut across it perpendicularly to dice it. Another girl cut the cucumber in circles and that cut each circle into fourths. It was the same result, and different ways of going about it. This is similar to teaching – students often use different strategies to come up with the same solution.

Afterward we played games such as “Guess the song,” where the player hums a song and the audience guesses what song it is, and “Most likely to…” where each girl was awarded a title by their peers that started with the phrase “Most likely to…”. An example might be: “Most likely to travel the world.” These games were meant to get everyone comfortable with each other. I would have liked to delve into further conversation with the girls that night, but we ran out of time. This time the girls’ behavior was much more focused and you could tell they thoroughly enjoyed the night!

They say the third time is the charm. I think they are right. The third meeting was potluck style with the girls each bringing an Ethiopian dish from home. Again, we ate first. Before we dug in, I wanted each girl to tell me about the dish they had brought – what it was, how they made it. I don’t remember the names of each dish but I won’t forget sitting there and being so appreciative that each girl and her family took the time to cook something for the potluck and the pride in which the girls talked about their dishes.

On this particular day, the other volunteer brought her friend to the center. Her friend was born in Ethiopia but moved to the U.S. when she was young. I think she and the kids quickly connected since she was someone who understood their struggles, having been born in their same country and also having had to adapt into a new society. It was clear she and the kids had faced some of the same challenges. She also wore her hair natural and short. Most of the girls here straighten their hair, and I think it was good for them to see someone with the same hair type wear it natural, short, and confident. She was the perfect role model for the kids – an Ethiopian who adapted into a new society, but who still maintains her roots and culture. After all of the thoughtful conversation, we ended the night with a fun game.

I can tell how much each girls’ night improved from the one before it and how I improved as a leader, especially after reflecting back on them. I can also tell how the attitude shifted between the girls as the girls’ nights progressed. By the end, every girl was participating, every girl was laughing, and every girl was exploring their identity as Ethiopian-Israelis.

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Fun and learning at a youth outreach center

LisaThis summer, as part of the Maguire Fellowship and my Engaged Learning project, I have been in Israel volunteering with the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to help Ethiopian immigrants and their families succeed in Israel.

ENP has many programs, but I am specifically working at one of their youth outreach centers. I’ve been at the organization for over a month now. There are about 30 kids, ages around 12-16. They love Jason Derulo, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, and Beyonce. They enjoy soccer, basketball, checkers, and more. Sometimes the kids are rowdy, but I also think they are some of the sweetest people! One time I was playing basketball outside with some of the girls and another two girls came and brought me water from inside the center in case I was thirsty. How thoughtful!

There is definitely a language barrier between the children and myself. They all speak fluent Hebrew, while I am just a beginner in Hebrew. Sometimes they pull out their phones to use Google translate to converse with me. Since I’ve been here I’ve gotten better at Hebrew, but still nowhere near the level I would like to be. It is a good thing you do not have to solely rely on conversation to communicate with kids. Playing soccer, drawing together, or playing chess still brings the kids and me together. In times when I am leading an activity, another volunteer here who has become my close friend helps me translate.

The initial purpose of my Engaged Learning project was to promote intercultural understanding between Ethiopian-Israeli and Israeli kids through soccer. However, the longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve realized I needed to adapt my project’s purpose. There are many hurdles integrating into a new culture, and I feel that the Ethiopian-Israelis here need empowerment more than anything so they can succeed when faced with certain challenges.

It is very difficult to adjust from a life in Ethiopia to one in Israel. Many people from Ethiopia come from villages and then arrive into a Western, urban society. Not only do the Ethiopians have to start from scratch, but they also have to adapt to a new culture. Their kids also have a hard time growing up at the intersection of Ethiopian and Israeli cultures. They sometimes have to be the translator for their parents, and their parents cannot always understand the challenges they face. Even asking for help with math homework is something not every Ethiopian-Israeli child can ask their parent. The center allows the children to interact with people who are facing the same challenges, get support, and get involved with different activities. The center also hosts parents’ nights to get the parents involved and help them understand what their children are going through.

Because of these additional challenges, I want to empower the girls at ENP to give them the self-confidence to believe that they can get through any obstacle that may come their way. Just recently we had a girls’ night. and one of the games we played was called “guess the song.” One person would hum the tune of a song and the audience had to guess which song it was. Multiple times one person would guess and then everyone would start singing together. It was a simple game, yet here were different cliques of girls coming together through music. It was unifying. I hope I will continue to see more of this at future girls’ nights!

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