"Of course racism exists. But my skin is so thick, like an elephant. I won’t let anyone hurt me!"
Location: Barbie Fashion Store, King George Street, Tel Aviv
Residence: Tel Aviv
The encounter: I met Rinat in a clothing store in central Tel Aviv. Just one week earlier, Ethiopian Jews from all over Israel had gather in Tel Aviv to protest police brutality and racism. The international media had compared these protests to the ones that were taking place in Baltimore at the same time. Rinat told me she had joined the protests in support of her community, even though she feels her family is privileged and hasn’t suffered much discrimination. But she did remember the time when her uncles had been arrested for a robbery they had not committed, and she also remembered being called a “kushi” (“nigger”) when she was a little girl. Still, she insisted she hasn’t been affected by racism.
What are you doing here right now?
This store belongs to a friend of my fiancé. It’s is a temporary job. Usually I work in real estate: selling houses, buying houses... but I’m taking a break from that now. In the future, I see myself working in education. I’ve promised myself to try to be the principal of a school by the time I’m forty. This year, I’m starting my studies. But I’ll keep working in real estate to support myself.
How do you describe your religious or national identity?
I am an Ethiopian Jew, born in Israel. But we are a very mixed family: my aunts are all married to Ashkenazim [European Jews] and Moroccans. My fiancé is Yemenite.
Can you tell me a bit about your family?
I have five siblings: one older brother and four younger brothers. I’m the only girl. My older brother was born in Ethiopia, but my younger brothers and I were born in Israel. My big brother has two kids.
I have been together with my fiancé for almost five years. We’re planning to get married sometime next year.
Where is your family from?
My parents came here with the first major emigration of Ethiopian Jews in the 1980s. Some family members had already immigrated to Israel earlier. I’ve never been to Ethiopia. It’s a trip I plan for the future. We have no family left there.
Of course it was hard for my parents to integrate into Israeli society. But it’s the same for all new immigrants. And of course there is racism. There always has been and there always will be. We have a lot of problems in this country, and for people to feel good about themselves and their lives, what do they do? – They look down upon someone else who’s even worse off than they are. First it was the Moroccans who were looked down upon, and now, sixty years later, the Moroccans are doing fine. In the end we’ll be fine as well. They’ll find someone else to look down upon...
My fiancé says that the protests have brought the problem of racism to people’s consciousness here. But I don’t think it makes much difference. They still need to internalize it. With time, the situation will improve, but it won’t change from today to tomorrow.
My grandfather always taught us to hold our noses up high. That way people, can’t bring you down. In my family we’re all educated: we have lawyers, professors, engineers...
The racism, it doesn’t hurt me if I don’t let it touch me. I won’t take it personally. If I don’t get hired for a job, I don’t assume it’s racism. They didn’t take me for the job.... so, ya’ala, I move on! It’s not fair. But what can you do? Of course racism exists. But my skin is so thick, like an elephant. I won’t let anyone hurt me! If someone else is messed-up, should I let myself be messed up as well?
What are your hopes and expectations for the future of this land?
I’d like life to be less expensive here. The wars and all that... we can manage. It isn’t actually that bad. The media makes much more out of it than it actually is. In general, life is great here. We have beautiful weather! I travel a lot. I have a good life.
I’ve spent a lot of time in the US. I traveled in California, Arizona, Montana (it’s really boring there!), and I lived on and off for half a year in San Francisco. In the US, they have nutcases at a level I’ve never encountered in Israel! In the US, you can’t even visit people unannounced because they may shoot you at the door! In Israel, nobody goes to school with a gun to kill their classmates! And we don’t have ghettos that are so crime-ridden you’re afraid to walk around. We don’t have any of that here! This is a very safe country. We have some wars every once in while, but every place has its troubles.