Mehereta Baruch-Ron rises from illiteracy to deputy mayor Tel Aviv
Met with Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, Mehereta Baruch-Ron, an Ethiopian born Jew who migrated to and resettled in Israel at the age of 10.
We listened attentively as she spoke to a delegation of journalists who are the guests of the State of Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs at City Hall, Tel Aviv.
Her story is a fascinating one beginning in Ethiopia where she lived with her family and extended family of Ethiopian Jews. They lived separate from other Ethiopians and were not necessarily welcomed. Let her tell it, she grew up hearing the Bible stories told to her by the community elders who visualized their future, which included a move to Jerusalem, the promise land. Of course as a little girl she dreamed of this place never seen but existed solely in her mind based on pictured she formed from the stories she heard.
Then the day came that she was informed that they would be making a sojourn to Israel and her heart fluttered and yet for all the happiness it stirred in the hearts of all, the sacrifice to get there was far more than they ever thought it would be. And the danger was greater. Many could not make the journey for numerous reasons health, age and then those like her mother did not leave because she stayed behind to attend to her parents who could not make the journey.
The strong designated to go dressed in their very best white celebratory clothing and left at night fleeing Ethiopia without permission. As she looked back she said it was quite contradictory if you think about it, Black people at night dressed in white attempting to leave un-conspicuously. Somehow they did. They walked and walked and walked for 3 weeks, 800 kilometers until they made it to a refugee camp in the Sudan and not before many had begun to question when ‘will we get there?’ They were told we’re almost there. However ‘there’ was the refugee camp which was close, not Jerusalem, ‘The Promise land’. They remained there for 6 months. Some who had come with them died before they could make it to the ‘Promise land.’
She was sent with her two sisters before the others because one of her elder sisters had taken ill and needed medical attention. Her dad was able to finesse their transport sooner than not. Mehereta, spoke candidly that it was upon her arrival in Jerusalem that her life changed forever. She had never seen the iron bird in which she and her sister flew to reach the promos land and as they approached it at night she looked out the window and saw the city all lit up. For her this was huge as one arriving from a place with no electricity, running water, plumbing, refrigeration and all that a modern city brings. The Sudan did not want to appear as partnering with Israel so it was challenging for the others to get out of Sudan. Fortunately her father and brothers joined she and her sisters 6 weeks later while her mother did not join them until 6 years later.
She was not educated, in fact was illiterate unable to read or write even in her native tongue. She was thrust into a boarding school and has never looked back. Though she did point out that she noticed immediately that she was now in a place with others who did not look like her. She graduated from Haifa University with a BA in psychology and human services as well as a master’s degree in Organizational Sociology.
Her past is colorful and exactly as it was meant to be–as she acted professionally where as it was through this medium of touching lives that she realized she wanted to have a more direct impact in making a difference in improving the quality of life for others.
Today she is responsible for welfare and social services, and acting member of the culture committee. She explains that one of her most daunting tasks is to create a Tel Aviv that is accessible to all economically. Currently the cost of living is higher than most who work in the city can afford. It is a place for the rich and often called the New York of the Middle East.
She is proud however of its diversity and the stride that they have made in creating fair representation for all. When asked about racism, She replied, ” I think racism exists everywhere there are groups of people who are different from others or the norm and the ignorance of knowing about the other translates to fear. However it is our responsibility as people to let our curiosity about others lead us to a higher place where as we learn who these people who are different from ourselves in some ways are. In doing so we will discover that we share so much more in common as human beings than our differences. We are attempting to do this more and more here.”
Meheretha, made it clear that the experience of the Ethiopian Jew in Israel is not the same as the Africans in America and else where. The Ethiopian Jew was extended an olive branch by Israel and invited to Israel once accepted that they were Jews. They did not come as slaves. This is the first and major difference. The disparity in wealth comes because most of the Ethiopians who came initially just as herself were not educated and had to begin anew. This makes a huge difference. It also inspires her to create opportunities and services for the more disadvantaged.
She was to point out that Tel Aviv can easily boasts that it has the largest community of gays and that it is listed as the best place for gays to live happily because they are accepted and treated equally. This achievement says much about what the city and hopefully indicates it is capable of moving forward.
Still there is room for improvement and she’s working on it!