GLENDALE — It was a night devoted to diversity, of which Judaism was just one part.
The four panelists of the “Journeys: Our Immigration Stories” panel and roundtable event, held at Nicolet High School in Glendale, on Nov. 6, 2016, came from truly different backgrounds.
The event, sponsored by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council, Israel Center and its Partnership2Gether program, was to make human the stories of a culturally diverse group of people who emigrated from their countries.
“The reality is that we all have had to reinvent ourselves many, many times,” said Cynthia Herber, the emcee and a Milwaukee attorney, originally from Mexico City.
The panelists were Zongcheng Mova of Milwaukee, originally from Laos; Maleses Abraham of Israel, born in Ethiopia; Shadha Dahham, a Milwaukee Muslim from Iraq and Raul Galvan, an American immigrant from Cuba.
Abraham was in town as part of a visiting cultural diversity delegation from Israel. He talked of making aliyah because “of ideology.”
“I love Yisrael,” he said. He did note, “Israel is not only serving newcomers. She has many problems.”
Abraham immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Solomon, an Israeli military operation that airlifted Ethiopian refugees to Israel in 1991. Nearly the entire Jewish population of 14,500 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted in just under 36 hours, according to news reports at the time.
A common theme at the event was that immigrating is not easy. “As a woman, I lost my family over there, my job, my friends, my work,” Dahham said.
Speakers also noted how hard it can be to adopt a non-native language. The audience of more than 50 people laughed sympathetically as one speaker talked of how hard it can be to pronounce the “th” in English, or to make sense of when a “y” becomes plural and “ies.”
Mova went from Laos to Thailand to Europe to America. “The journey really taught me,” he said.
He noted that American culture is different because here, we’re more likely to talk about winners, not losers. He noted how when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, the Cleveland Indians seemed forgotten. He referred to a newspaper: “The whole page, 95 percent, dedicated to the Cubs.”
Galvan was brought to Miami from Cuba as a boy. He didn’t understand his teachers, in those years before bilingual education. Today, he’s manager of program production at channels 10 and 36 in Milwaukee.
“I was too dumb or too young or too something to really experience serious problems,” he said. “I sort of acclimated pretty easily once we got to the Midwest.”
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About Operation Solomon
In 1991, Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel by way of 40 flights using 35 civilian and military airplanes.