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  • Chloe Mastour

Shiriyah Public Speaking Winner- Day 2: Jewish Diversity

Israel takes pride in defining itself as a homeland for the Jewish people. I would like to discuss more particularly the immigration of Russian and Ethiopian Jews in the past 25 years in Israel, a complex and multifaceted process, marked by both social and halachic issues.

Ethiopian Jews began moving to Israel as early as the 1930s. However, it was not until the late 1970s that they immigrated en masse after aliyah activists began convincing Ethiopians to flee civil war and famine and journey on foot through the Horn of Africa into Sudan, where they could be moved from refugee camps to Israel. This led to two major operations, Moses in 1984 and Solomon in 1991, that brought nearly the entire tribe over to Israel.

The integration of Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society was initially characterized by significant obstacles: entering a modern country from remote regions of Ethiopia, the disruption of long-standing hierarchies in which elders lead their community; some racial prejudice; and doubt regarding the “Jewishness” of certain Ethiopians and the questioning of their religious practices.

While the Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef enthusiastically embraced Ethiopian immigrants, some refused to marry Ethiopians without a proper conversion. This is because Jewish law only recognizes matrilineal descent, so many of the immigrants were not considered Jewish but were eligible for Israeli citizenship due to patrilineal Jewish descent or marriage to a Jew. However, with successive generations, Ethiopian Israelis have climbed to the top of Israeli society in religious life, military service, education, and politics.

At the same time, the relaxation of emigration restrictions in the Soviet Union by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and the state’s subsequent collapse led to the emigration of about 400,000 Soviet Jews. Of these, 83% went to Israel as defined by the Law of Return. Thus, Israel again became the first destination of this migration movement. The rate of this mass exodus was much higher than the mass Jewish emigration from the Russian Empire around the turn of the 20th century. It was at this time of Perestroika that the father of one member of the senior class fled the USSR for Israel in pursuit of a better life for himself and his future family, where he lived in the Negev in a town called Demona. After four years of living in the holy land, he visited his aunt here in the states and chose to settle and raise a family in this country. It was not long until the Shtyfman family was living happily ever after.

We all know and love the rock 'n' roll renegade. This dude is so effortlessly cool and truly “bad to the bone,” with his shaggy hair, the way he flashes you a lop-sided smirk, or those classic finger guns, he saunters onto the stage like he owns the joint. And once he starts to play, the crowd is putty in his hands. No, Jon Shtyfman is not just talented. He can light up a room with a presence that can make even the most jaded feel like they're part of something bigger as he sings with such raw emotion that it feels like he's speaking directly to your soul.

If it were not for the courageous sacrifices of Jon's parents, we would have never been blessed with his presence in our this school. It is in their honor, and that of all our Jewish ancestors that preceded him, that Jon steps into the spotlight to sing his heart out. So rock on.

But we love our Russians, don’t we, folks? I'm referring to people like Comrade Boris Mulod, as enigmatic and stone-faced as any good ole’ Russian oligarch should be, never one to be trifled with, with a sharp gaze that could freeze a Siberian winter and a presence as imposing as the Kremlin itself. Boris’ family moved to Tel Aviv from Dushanbe, Tajikistan right after the fall of the Soviet Union. Now, no one quite knows what Boris is thinking as he glides through the halls of North Shore as if down the streets of Moscow. Rumors abound of backroom deals and shadowy alliances. Some say he has connections to the highest echelons of government, while others whisper of ties to the Russian mafia… but perhaps I have already revealed too much. Such information becomes known to only the most prominent figures of his inner circle with time… or so I’ve heard.

A significant portion of the immigrants at this time were also groups like Georgians and Bukharans. Now, Dave Moshel is the senior class’ very own Georgian titan- a towering figure of sheer power, a force of nature who commands respect and inspires fear in equal measure. Some of his hobbies include wrestling, oppressing women, making NPCs cry, slonking 36 raw eggs a day, and mocking the disabled, AKA Gabi Joel Ghalandar, who gallantly took a fall in order to prevent a dangerous collision with a little girl on the Bunny Slope. No one can deny Moshel’s commanding presence, and even his enemies can't help but feel a grudging respect for his raw power. Why should they? Lest we forget that Moshel, though having dislocated his shoulder in the heat of combat, managed to perform an atomic suplex, slamming his opponent onto the mat full-force and pinning him down effortlessly. There's something about his raw, unbridled spirit that speaks to the primal urges of the human soul, don’t ya think?

Now to all of the seniors, we stand at the precipice of our futures with equal uncertainty and excitement! And yet, we pay tribute to the brave men and women who paved the path that lies before us. The weight of their sacrifice is heavy on my heart, but it is also a source of great inspiration and motivation. We cannot let their sacrifices be in vain. It is up to each one of us to strive for greatness, to achieve our highest potentials, to obey our master, and love our neighbors. For I know that in doing so, we will make those looking down on us proud. And that, to me, is the greatest reward of all.

Well, are we living up to our potential? With the combination of fundraising and awareness-building, we become active fighters against domestic violence. We’re baking cookies and challah almost on the daily for chessed, as well as organizing blood drives, and even collecting boxes of matzah as we prepare for Passover, and at the same time, we are also the varsity basketball champions!

So yeah, If you ask me, I think we’re doing a pretty good job.

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