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Sunday, November 11, 2007

New immigrant: A portrait

Arrivals: From Azezo, Ethiopia, to Jerusalem
* Birthplace: Gondar
* Aliya date: 1992
* Occupation: Writer and journalist
* Family status: Divorced father of two
Zenaneh David (Dawit in Amharic), now 50, a writer and journalist, was born in Gondar, a region in northern Ethiopia. His father taught him the basic skills of reading and writing in Amharic. "When I was in high school, I was writing stories and reading them to my mother. I developed a love of reading and writing when I was young," he says.
He attended ninth and 10th grades in Gondar, and 11th and 12th grades in Addis Ababa. Zenaneh has four brothers and two sisters, all of them educated.
When students were sent to the countryside on a literacy campaign, he stayed in Addis Ababa, took a course in journalism and became a journalist. He worked as a radio newscaster and commentator.
"When I was a high school student, I wanted to be a surgeon," he says, "because I heard the emperor's private doctor, Prof. Asrat Woldeyes, took out a piece of bone which got stuck in the throat of one of the emperor's relatives. As a young student, I was impressed by what he did and I wanted to become a physician to operate on people and make miracles just like the professor.
"But I lost interest in medicine when, for the first time, I saw a line of dead bodies in Gondar Medical School, displayed for students to study. I nearly vomited. From then on, I turned my attention to my second choice: journalism."
He worked in radio as well as in television for 19 years. "I was the only person who worked in two places at the time," he says. He was imprisoned for two years for political reasons, and after he was released, he crossed the border into Kenya, thinking that life would better there. "In fact," he says, "it was worse than in Ethiopia. So I went back to Ethiopia."
While he was working in the media, he wrote two books, Liberty and Under the Roof, both published in Amharic.
Zenaneh came here in 1992, eight months after Operation Solomon. "Upon arrival, I went straight to Petah Tikva to live with relatives. I did not live in an absorption center. I knew English and could get along with people in English. I didn't need anyone's assistance like those immigrants who came from the countryside."
People from the Thomson Foundation in Britain came to Addis Ababa and gave courses in journalism. "I was one of the seven students selected to take a course in journalism. I stood first."
Besides journalism, Zenaneh studied history at Addis Ababa University, but he quit his studies while he was a third-year student.
He studied film directing in Jerusalem, which enabled him to work in educational television.
Zenaneh worked in the English section of Educational Television as an assistant film director and producer.
At the moment, he works for the Voice of Germany (Amharic section) on Middle Eastern affairs. "In my radio broadcasts, I tell Amharic listeners in Europe and America about Israel. When I was traveling in Europe, many people asked me a lot of questions about Israel. I feel I am acting as a self-appointed ambassador for Israel," he says.
Zenaneh speaks Amharic, English and Hebrew, and some Italian. "I studied Hebrew in the ulpan," he says. "My Hebrew is not as good as it should be. As my children were still in Ethiopia, my whole attention was on how to bring them to Israel. I didn't focus much on Hebrew."
Zenaneh divorced before he made aliya. He has two daughters, and both are here. The elder studies ballet after having completed army service. The second is in the army and is studying theater.
"Marriage is not on my agenda at the moment," he says. "My major priority is to give a solid education to my daughters."
"I love to read. I read everything: newspapers, journals and books. As a writer, I read all kinds of books. I am writing poetry in Amharic and recording it on a CD. I read psychology. It gives me insight to understand human nature." He is also writing an Amharic novel.
He lives on welfare. He also earns a meager income from his German Radio broadcasts. "I live in a rented house and it costs a lot. I need money to get my poetry and the book I am writing published. Life is not easy," he says.
Zenaneh lives in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood. "I like the place. The people in my neighborhood are peaceful. I rarely meet people, even Ethiopians whose language and culture is mine. I have no communication with them."
"My books are my friends," he says. "I know many Ethiopians, but I have few friends. I read books. There are no Ethiopians in my neighborhood who read books that I can discuss with them. My daughters are my best friends. They live with me. I don't regret having no other friends."
Zenaneh is secular. But he says he reads the Bible every day. He observes Shabbat. "I rest on Shabbat. Toward the end of the week when Shabbat approaches, I feel happy."
"I feel I am Israeli. I also feel I am Ethiopian in culture, in history and in language. I write my poems and books in Amharic. Politics does not interest me as much as literature and writing."
Zenaneh is planning to get his manuscripts published. "I am a writer and want to continue to write. The Ethiopian community here in Israel does not have direction. Through my writings, I want to give direction to my community."
He is also planning to create a library. "I have a collection of 5,000 books that I have been buying from time to time. With this collection and more to come in the future, I want to open a library for Ethiopians, mainly for the young. There is no library run by Ethiopians for Ethiopians in this country. I want to start it."
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