|NIF Activist Chosen to Light Independence Day Torch|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
When Yuvi Tashome reached Israel as a young girl during Operation Moses in 1984, she was renamed Rachel by immigration officials. The rationale for the name change, subsuming her Ethiopian identity, was a well-intentioned effort to promote social integration. So when she was chosen to light one of the 12 torches at the Independence Day ceremony on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, and called to the stage by her African birth-name, she felt not only delight at receiving one of the nation's highest honors, but satisfaction that her Ethiopian-Israeli identity was being fully recognized.
Tashome, 34, is founder and co-director of NIF grantee Friends by Nature – Community Empowerment – a kind of urban kibbutz in Gedera south of Tel Aviv. Tashome and a dedicated group of several dozen social activists, most of them Ethiopian-born, work with disadvantaged Ethiopian immigrant youth, attempting to keep them in school and out of trouble.
She said, "I hope that lighting the torch will shed light on all the small social change organizations like ours. I hope the publicity that I get will help gain recognition for the major influence that we and similar organizations have on the community.”
Friends by Nature, which began working with three families in 2005 when Tashome set up the organization up with six other volunteers, is today working with 300 children, mainly from Gedera's community of 1,600 Ethiopian immigrants. "Many of the youth we helped in our first few years are volunteers with us today."
Tashome has come a long way – quite literally. In the early 1980's her widowed mother decided to realize the centuries-old Ethiopian Jewish dream of returning to Jerusalem and began the trek across Sudan.
She recalled, "I don't remember a lot about Sudan, just the deaths and that everybody was hungry. I was hungry all the time. My most vivid memory was the flight. We were up in the sky, and the [Israelis] were all wearing white. I thought they were angels."
Some of the children in Gedera that
Life in Israel was never easy. After graduating from the IDF Education Corps, it was difficult to find work. "The people who were interviewing me just saw an Ethiopian."
Tashome also battles the longstanding policy of sending Ethiopian immigrant children away to residential schools rather than being kept at home in the family. She said, "Instead of wasting huge sums of money on educating the children away from the family, the funds should be invested in building communities. That's the only way that communities can integrate into Israel while also retaining their traditions and values."
She added, "In Gedera, we give the families that we help the tools to work with, and more than that we give them a platform to build tools for our entire community – families and children."
Tashome, who has an academic degree in education, said that the Gedera program was not put together in a university. "Our program was written by local people who understand the community and its needs and what is feasible and what is not feasible. The program is also custom-made for each individual child and his or her unique circumstances. Experience has shown us that this is the most effective way."
In honor of Yuvi’s many accomplishments, NIF placed an ad in Ha’aretz before Independence Day. The ad says: NIF congratulates Yuvi Tashoma, founder of Friends by Nature, who was chosen to light a torch on Israel's 63rd Independence Day. With the assistance of NIF, Yuvi and her friends work to empower hundreds of children and families in community groups among Ethiopian immigrants. Over the years, many of those children have themselves become volunteers with the organization, and are continual proof of the power and importance of civil society, and its crucial role in shaping a beautiful Israel – equal, tolerant and just.