I would like to begin with telling you a little bit about myself.
My parents immigrated from Russia to Israel during November 1995, and I was born on the 23 rd. of February, 1996. I always spoke Russian to my parents, and the integration between Hebrew and Russian always made sense to me – at home, I spoke Russian. At school – Hebrew.
My hair is black, and my eyes are brown. I speak Hebrew fluently, and I feel like a born and bred Israeli – Israel is my only home. But for some reason, all of those factors were still not enough for my classmates at elementary school. A big part of my memories from that time includes harassments and abuse because of my origin. The adjective “Russian” became a curse. I was blamed for all of the problems in the Israeli society.
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes, I attempted to defend myself. Usually, the outcome was even more violence towards me.
When it tried to ask for help, the reply was “Just don’t react, stay away. What is so difficult about it?” How can you ignore an insult? The feeling of humiliation? How can you ignore violence?
I would like to present a few facts:
17% of the 5th and 6th grade students have experienced violence at school.
One of every 25 students has a police record – that is almost 2 students in each class.
In this speech I discuss violence towards new immigrants, and I would like to emphasize – violence is just like cancer – if we will choose to ignore, it won’t go away. It will keep developing in our body, until there will be nothing left.
Where does violence come from?
Violence is learned as we learn anything else. If a child sees that violence is not punished, he will just keep on being violent. More than that – people are being more violent from watching violence – when they see that other people are getting away from punishment, and sometimes even rewarded for it, they begin to think that this is a legitimate way of communication.
Dr. Tom Gompel, a lecturer at the Hebrew University at Jerusalem, mentions in one of his articles a main reason for violence towards immigrants - "The hatred of the other". What is it? Where does it come from?
The hatred of the other is a hating the different, the unusual. Naturally, our mind is splitting the people around us into two groups - us, and the others.
As a result, the urge to defend our own kind of people, is awoken.
But the people who are being violent toward immigrants, what is it that they defend? What is the difference between the immigrants from the former USSR in the 90s, and the immigrants from North Africa during the 50s? The immigrants from Europe before and after the declaration of independence? AT THE END OF THE DAY, THEY ARE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.
The value of equality is highlighted in the declaration of independence:"... it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture...” - we have to raise our children according to what is stated at the declaration - we need to educate the people according to the values of pluralism, equality, caring for the other. We need to allow the discussion about the differences between people, not from a violent, ethno-centric point of view, but from caring for the other, listening, respecting the differences between people.
I honestly believe that now is the time to take action, to stop the violence towards immigrants and their children.
Because of my own experience, this year I have initiated a project for the new immigrants who go to my school.
We meet once a week. My goal is to give them a platform where they could grow as people, and fit into the school and community life as well as possible.
I believe that the best way to evolve as a person is through helping others, and for that reason, we volunteer at a shelter for homeless holocaust survivors.
I have managed to escape the violence that I experienced, thanks to the help of friends, family members, and the supporting environment at my school. But not all people are as lucky as me, and not everyone get to overcome the violence they experience.
I am asking you, from this stage, to act against violence. Let’s create a better world, for all of us!
Translated from Hebrew by Author; published with Polina K.. and her parents permission