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After race riots, Israelis celebrate holiday with African kids

An unexpected bright spot in south Tel Aviv yesterday, less than a week after the race riots: Israelis celebrated Shavuot with the children of African asylum seekers in Levinsky Park, the public space next to the Central Bus Station that has become a hub for the migrant community.

As I have done countless times over the past four years that I have been covering and researching migrant workers and African asylum seekers in Israel, I spent most of yesterday hanging out in south Tel Aviv, conducting man-on-the-street interviews. After last week’s race riots, the mood in the area is dark, tense, pessimistic. While our conversations took place in public, a number of Africans told me that they are scared “even right now.” These were grown men who were frightened for their physical safety on busy streets in broad daylight.

So I was moved to see a couple of bright spots in the area. The Garden Library–the initiative of local NGOs, including Mesila–was up and running yesterday. Asylum seekers and migrant workers were perusing the books while Israeli volunteers played with African and Filipino children.

In the grass to the side of the Garden Library, a small group of Jewish Israelis and the children of African asylum seekers marked Shavuot by reading the Book of Ruth together in Hebrew.

Jewish Israelis and the children of African asylum seekers celebrate Shavuot in Levinsky Park by reading the Book of Ruth. When the older girl on the right hit a bump in her reading, a volunteer helped her sound out the word. (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

This sign reminds that while racism and xenophobia are huge problems in Israel society, there are some Jewish Israelis who oppose hatred of foreigners (photo: Mya Guarnieri)

The scene was especially moving to me because, as Yuval Ben-Ami points out in his excellent post about the holiday, Ruth was a foreigner. During Sukkot and Pesach we remember that we, too, were strangers in strange lands. And the Torah commands us to care for the strangers among us.

While yesterday’s Shavuot celebration does not mitigate or whitewash the country’s deep-seated racism–and, unfortunately, xenophobia seems to be the prevailing sentiment in Israel–we cannot forget that there are Jewish Israelis who are caring for foreigners, in ways large and small.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Blue

      LOVE IT 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    2. Blue

      And happy Shavuot!

      Reply to Comment
    3. “While yesterday’s Shavuot celebration does not mitigate or whitewash the country’s deep-seated racism–and, unfortunately, xenophobia seems to be the prevailing sentiment in Israel–we cannot forget that there are Jewish Israelis who are caring for foreigners, in ways large and small.”
      .
      The great thing about humanity is that not everyone has my limitations, “my” meant generically. Humans are not all the same, our saving grace. The people you report will be there to help put things back together again.

      Reply to Comment
    4. zelda harris

      Wonderful to see but it disguises the reality and what are we to do to find the solution??. Why cant we elect leadership who have vision and humanity?.Years ago no one wanted to come here and everyone was welcome .

      Reply to Comment
    5. Rafael

      The answer, Zelda, is that, in a democracy, the elected leaders tend to reflect the mindset of the voters. If a population lacks vision and humanity, so will its representatives.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ruth

      “we cannot forget that there are Jewish Israelis who are caring for foreigners, in ways large and small” I
      That’s the problem. You never gave a shit about the poor people who live in Hatikvah and whose issues boiled over in violence. Not a sexy enough cause for you? Your caring is so selective.

      Reply to Comment
    7. myaguarnieri

      ruth, which poor people are you talking about? the africans? who i have been covering for YEARS while most of the media has been ignoring them? or the jewish israelis, who i have written about as well? (and well before the middle class, mainstream tent protest movement brought housing issues to the fore). are you talking about the jewish israeli residents, of whom i just told a german radio station that the government MUST address their needs– any policy the state comes up with regarding africans must be holistic and must address the long-standing issues of the israeli residents of south tel aviv and not just those of the newcomers.
      do a little homework, dear, before you jump to conclusions about how i feel about the residents of south tel aviv.
      here’s some links to get you started:
      Housing struggle you didn’t hear about: Kfar Shalem http://972mag.com/struggles-that-dont-get-israeli-media-attention-the-case-of-kfar-shalem/19633/
      House evictions forge new alliances (ran in Al Jazeera in March of 2011): http://www.myaguarnieri.com/2011/03/house-evictions-forge-new-alliances/

      Reply to Comment
    8. And, for the record, Ruth, all these journalists who have suddenly woken up to the issues in south Tel Aviv piss me off and annoy me, too. Jewish Israelis have been struggling there for decades. Africans for years now. Where has the media been?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mya,
      .
      The occupation and Arab Israelis apart, the promise of Israel seems nearly too much to bear. Your Declaration of Independence guaranttes free ingress of Jews into Israel; but what happens thereafter is always a conflict, intra-resident Jewish, in social economic politics; and cultrual too, I guess.
      .
      Even if the land had been empty, the promise would always almost be failing. The tragedy and pain of Israel is that the land was not, and is not, empty, and the promise is unatainable. I am not saying it is futile to act and try, but that Israel is a bitter sweet marvel in several ways.
      .
      Now I’ll probably be attacked for being anti Palestinian. Caring has become a zero sum game.

      Reply to Comment