Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Balaynesh Moll Ayeh

Beth Mitchel, from the Seattle area, was one of the four counselors who came to Kiryat Malachi this summer to work at an English-focused camp. The counseling program was a People-to-People project of the TIPS Partnership. The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle helps support this program as well as a TIPS program that brings Israeli teens to Seattle to work as counselors at local camps.

As part of the program, all four counselors stayed with families in Kiryat Malachi. Beth was hosted by Balaynesh Moll Ayeh and her youngest daughter, 19-year-old Einav, Beth’s roommate.

I had met Balaynesh previously, so she was happy to have me visit her home and talk with her about the hosting experience. After talking a bit, I asked if she wouldn’t mind telling me how she came to be in Kiryat Malachi, and she readily agreed.

Balaynesh was raised in Addis Ababa. She married after high school, and her husband thought it was very important for her to get her driver’s license and a university decree, so she got a BA in Business. After graduation, she worked in a bank in Addis, and used English a lot.

Balaynesh and her husband have 5 children, 2 sons and 3 daughters, from the ages of 19 to 31. In 1986, they sent their two oldest children, ages 7 and 8, to Israel, where they lived in a boarding school, in Kiryat Gat. Three years later her parents made aliyah and eventually moved to Kiryat Gat. In 1991, after not having seen her son and daughter for five years, she took her youngest child Einav (age 2) to Israel to visit them.

The children had missed the family terribly. They said that if their mother didn’t stay with them in Israel, they would insist on going back to Ethiopia with her. So Balaynesh called her husband and told him she had no choice. She went back to Ethiopia to get the other two children.

For the time being, her husband stayed in Addis to continue working there. They were giving up a lot of creature comforts to move to Israel, for they lived in a large 13-room home with large garden, but it was very important for them to live in Israel.

The family of 6 moved into an absorption center in Kiryat Gat. They had a very tiny apartment, but the children were all together again. Children #3 and #4 had trouble adjusting to school, so Balaynesh cleaned a woman’s huge 3-story home, and in exchange that woman tutored the two children. After a few months the two were so much better that they began to help others in their class.

Many Ethiopians have had to stay in absorption centers for more than 3 years before they move to their own apartment, but Balaynesh knew it was critical to move her children into a place they could call home. Balaynesh approached a wonderful man named Elias from the Jewish Agency. He understood her need, and took her on a tour of the surrounding areas. When they approached Kiryat Malachi, she felt like this was the place they should live. After a few weeks, Elias called and told her he had found the perfect apartment for her, and if she didn’t grab it, she would never find one so good. The apartment was great—with 3 big bedrooms, a huge kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and a living room. When she discussed details, her oldest son took notes. The apartment also had almost new furniture throughout. She was delighted with the find, and the family still lives there. It is about a block north of Bar Yehuda, with a nice grassy strip with benches dividing the lanes in the street in front of her building. Balaynesh says that their home has been open like “Avraham Avinu’s” with people always welcome. (As a result, Beth was able to meet a lot of local people.)

Four years later, her husband came to Israel. He also speaks English well. He started an import business but it was not really profitable. Currently he is working in a hotel in Eliot for 6 months.

Baylaynesh held a number of jobs and is proud that her family was never dependent on the social welfare office. In 1994, she worked in Ashdod, and in 1998, she began to work at Kupat Holim, helping new immigrants adjust to the medical system in Israel. Her job is in Kiryat Malachi, so it is closer to home, but there is a lot more pressure. She works in 3 clinics and sees up to 50 clients a day.

Five years ago, she was encouraged to run for the 13-member city council. She agreed to run because she felt that if she worked inside the system, she would help immigrants more. She was elected to the council with the second highest number of votes, even without campaigning. 2003 was the first year that Ethiopian Israelis won seats on city councils throughout the country. Currently there are six or seven such members throughout the country including two in Kiryat Malachi, one in Yavneh, Kvar Saba and Rehovot. She is the only woman in such a position. She is on the city tax committee and has helped to amend mortgage rules there. The other member in Kiryat Malachi is Solomon Yihi. Baylaynesh plans to run again in the city elections this November as she feels she can accomplish more now that she has adapted to the system.

Balaynesh’s five children have done very well. The oldest is a CPA with an MBA and a degree in computers. Another is a photographer; another has a degree in Logistics, and the 4th is studying to be a teacher.

Einav is the youngest. She is doing her national service in town and has worked in Etzion School. Next year she will be in Even Shmuel in Binyamina, helping new immigrants. She is also in charge of the B’nai Akiva groups in town. Three years ago, she started to work with 17 youth at risk through B’nai Akiva, and now eight are either studying or in the army. Three of the children are married, and two are quite religious. Balaynesh is delighted to be a grandmother. . Whenever possible, the family gathers at her home for Shabbat dinner. They continue a family tradition, to discuss what happened during the week and help solve each other’s problems.

Balaynesh invited me to come back whenever I am in town, and I hope to take advantage of her kind invitation.

No comments: