Freedom, Idealism, and Commitment Mark This Theater Student
Her given name means “freedom,” and she is a free soul—much her own woman. But in a way that demonstrates commitment and responsibility, and is not egotistical.
Hirut Almow, 23, who came to Israel from Ethiopia at the age of 12½ in 1991, before the famous Operation Solomon, is a student in the Dept. of Theater. Last spring she was chosen to represent the University at meetings with the Jewish public in Los Angeles and New York. It was her first trip abroad since coming to Israel, and her companions on this mission were the President of the University, the Vice-President for Development, and the heads of the University’s National Security Studies Center—a little nervousness on Hirut’s part is understandable.
But it was an exciting seven days, she readily admits. “I talked at a Jewish school,” she recalls. “They asked me about the security situation.” The kids she spoke to were more interested in that than in the fact of her being an Ethiopian immigrant or how she was coping in Israel or the help she was receiving from the University—the nominal subjects of her trip.
“I am surprised they don’t want to come [to visit Israel],” she remarks almost naively at one point.
The sentence reveals a certain unworldliness that complements her idealism, such as her sense of justice. Like the time she dropped out of an army officer program because a sister soldier had been dismissed from the course after the army learned the girl was not Jewish. It’s important for Hirut to do what’s right.
Of course, she might have been a little sensitive on this particular issue because she was not born halachically Jewish. Her biological father was Jewish, but her mother was not. Nevertheless she was raised in the Ethiopian Jewish tradition, and she did not know she was not Jewish when she came on aliya with her cousins.
It was only later, when her stepfather went to register her as his daughter—she had been written in on her cousins’ papers as one of theirs—that she learned the truth. Hirut then had to undergo an Orthodox conversion. “I didn’t like it. But I knew it was the law.” So she did it, despite the hurt to her pride.
Because she had thought of herself as Jewish, “the [conversion] process was difficult, mentally difficult. You don’t know who you are.” Still, she thought the studies were fun. She completed the process only last year. “You have to be ready internally,” she says in reflection. “A piece of paper doesn’t make you Jewish. It’s what is inside you.”
The feeling within is also what motivates this student to study acting. “I understand myself when I’m in another character,” she explains. “I feel like another person.” But there is another aspect to this persona. “The stage,” she says, “gives me a feeling I can control things.” Which is perhaps why she gets over any pre-show nervousness once out on the stage.
The stage presents Hirut with another opportunity. “I want to express Ethiopian culture—dress, dance, even humor. I also want to communicate with people, especially those without education, those who find it hard to adjust.” She sees theater as a way of doing this, in particular of getting across to Ethiopian youth.
To this end, she would like one day to write her own programs to stage for Ethiopian youngsters, for whom she has concern “like a parent.” As committed as she is to the betterment of her community, Hirut does not limit her talents to just one kind of audience. She is presently involved in a project of teaching theater to delinquent youths “of all Kinds” in a reform school in a town just outside of Haifa.
Although the aspiring entertainer would like one day to start an Ethiopian theater, right now she seeks acceptance for what she can do. “I want people to look upon me as an artist. I don’t want them to give me a chance because I am an Ethiopian,” she says candidly. Then adds boldly, “Because I have the ability.”
It is said without conceit, and her vivacious character that comes easily to the fore persuades a listener that she has what it takes.
Hirut is also convincing in her approach to education. “I have to be educated, so I invest [in education],” she states. “I know what I have to do when it comes to studies.” She admits to some difficulties with the Hebrew language—among other things, “I have to work on diction; Ethiopians talk fast”—but still took a full academic program last year, even if at times this meant a “10 a.m. to 10 p.m.” day.
As a young teenager, Hirut had two dreams about her future. One was to be a nurse like her father—actually, her stepfather, whom she talks of as her father; she has no contact with her biological father—the other was to be an actor. She dispensed with the first after her father took her to a hospital where he served as a male nurse, his occupation in Ethiopia.
Her father, though, also had a dream at that time, which was to be a rabbi. His grandfather had been a qais (Ethiopian Jewish clergyman). In due time after coming to Israel, Yafet Almow made headlines by becoming the first Conservative rabbi of Ethiopian descent. Her father also remarried in Israel.
Hirut maintains contact with her own mother, whom she talks with from time to time. She hopes she can visit Ethiopia one day to see her. During the young student’s years in Israel, she has basically not lived at home, attending a boarding school while in high school, then serving in the army, and now sharing with four other girls an apartment supplied by a soldiers’ welfare organization, called Roof for the Discharged Soldier.
Hirut describes herself as “easy to get along with.” She continues, “I’m not judgmental.” Then she adds with a hint of the idealism that shapes her inner nature, “May be that’s why I don’t encounter discrimination.
“On campus, I’m a student. I don’t feel anything bad.” But there seems almost a certain wistfulness in her concluding comment, “This is my greenhouse for now.” On second thought, it may convey a sense of her free spirit.
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