Recently, Hillel at the Interdisciplinary Center-Herzliya (IDC) brought the sounds and sights of Africa to the Israeli coastal town to call attention to the life of African refugees in Israel.
Since 2005, Israel has received a steady stream of African refugees hoping to escape civil war, genocide and economic turmoil. In Israel, these refugees confront cultural and language barriers, as well as difficulty finding stable jobs.
This January, Hillel at the IDC held an all day event to raise awareness of the refugees’ plight. Hillel-sponsored booths played African music throughout the day and offered students information about the plight of the refugees.
“The aim of this event was to spark student interest and involvement,” shared graduate student and event organizer Maytal Kuperard.
“What we are faced with is a humanitarian crisis; as a Jewish country, we can’t let this happen in front of our eyes and not do anything about it.”
In the evening, students met for a screening of the powerful film “Journey of the Damned,” a documentary about the survival of the Sudanese refugees in Israel. Following the screening, students attended a panel discussion with Eitan Schwartz, a leader in the campaign to help Sudanese refugees, and Johannes Lemma, a Darfur refugee and the director of the African Refugee Development Center.
The day-long event was capped off with an evening of music and dancing with Hillary Sargeant, a singer-songwriter originally from Trinidad & Tobago who now lives in Israel. The event helped raise money for the African Refugee Development Center.
The lessons of the day will continue in the Hillel’s programming throughout the year. Hillel students at IDC are now working to create a small-business program for Sudanese women that will help them cultivate their economic independence.
Capitalizing on the women’s existing skill set, the program helps refugees to sell their hand-woven baskets in local markets. The profits of the sales are distributed to the women, with a portion reinvested in the business.
While the exact number of African refugees in Israel is unknown, it is estimated to be as many as 6,000 and that number is rising daily. On average, 30 refugees are crossing the border every day into Israel, most coming from the Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Ivory Coast and Congo.