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Effort underway to save Amharic in Israel

By Roy (Chicky) Arad | HAARETZ

In the yard of Petah Tikva’s Fidel Youth Center, girls shout while playing soccer and boys grill hot dogs for a birthday party. The children, most of whose parents immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia, sing along to a Hebrew song and gossip in Hebrew. But on the center’s second floor, the atmosphere is more serious. Under portraits of Theodor Herzl and Nelson Mandela, 10 adults around the age of 40 are studying Amharic.

1337169799Most of the students are of Ethiopian origin; they grew up speaking the language at home, but never learned to read or write it. The class also includes Andrei Ilin, a musician who immigrated to Israel from Moscow five years ago and became interested in Ethiopian culture, which he says is “the most traditional in Israel,” and Ronen Dib, a contractor of Yemenite origin.

At first I sit next to Ron Habani, a Dan bus driver, who is preparing for a visit to Ethiopia, where he was born. He says he wants to be able to read signs while exploring his African roots. “Almost almost all of my friends are from the [Ethiopian] community,” says Dib, who adds that his favorite word in Amharic is cherika, or moon.

The driving force behind the Enemar Center is Avraham Esres, one of its founders. He enters the classroom every 15 minutes, makes sure there’s coffee and croissants, and in between goes out to the street to try to persuade passersby to join the class. Esres drives a truck for a paper factory, but he feels his life’s purpose is to save Amharic from extinction in Israel.

Russian immigrants were his inspiration for starting the center, Esres says. “We saw how the Russians manage to keep their language in Israel while with us, it’s disappearing,” he says, adding: “What’s happening with Amharic hurts me, it’s a central part of our identity. The Enemar Center is the last stop before the language dies out here. “ Esres says that when he was at boarding school in Bnei Brak he studied Hebrew all day long. “Nobody suggested I study my language. I want to make a revolution, so children will learn Amharic in the schools.” […] READ MORE:http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.613602

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