Autumn 2003


Former Ethiopian Was Summer Student Scholar-in-Residence in Australia

“It seems that I have come a long way in my 26 years, and I would be prepared to do it again and again.  I still remember the barefoot little girl in the village in Ethiopia .  I see her today, and I ask myself, ‘Is this the same little girl…is this the same person?’  And the answer is definitely yes.  Yafa, the social worker and graduate student is the same Yafa who grew up far away, in a village in Ethiopia , and this moves me very much.”

        The words obviously also moved the women of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia who had assembled in Melbourne for their triennial convention this past June.  For, it seemed, they could not get enough of the speaker, Yafa Trunash Tarkay, who had just completed one year of the University’s new M.A. program in gerontology and had been invited to be the Council’s scholar in residence.

Tarkay’s month’s stay down under found her on top of the world, exhilarated from the plethora of invitations to conferences, meetings, and Shabbat dinners that took her to a half-dozen cities covering half the continent.

“It was a great privilege to be there,” she told Focus shortly after her return to Haifa .  “The sense that I represented the University and Israel , it was almost something holy.  When the children thanked me for coming, I was near tears.”

The graduate student who had come a long way since traipsing across the African desert as a child to reach Israel was impressed and inspired by the volunteering spirit of the Australian Jewish community, particularly by the members of the National Council.  “It was a full-time job,” she marveled.  “There was this feeling that I, too, wanted to help others.”

Tarkay described seeing a sign about helping Ethiopian children when she went to someone’s house in Brisbane .  “I had the feeling they wanted to do this,” she explained.  I saw the people, those who collected the funds.  They invested a lot of their energy in this.  Seeing the people involved also made it more meaningful for me.”

Although her praise encompassed most everyone with whom she had contact, she singled out Vivien Brass, who heads the NCJW’s Ethiopian Women’s Scholarship Fund at the University of Haifa .  “Her knowledge amazed me,” the student said of the Australian activist who helped bring a stellar keynote speaker to address the Fund’s dinner last spring, Cherie Booth-Blair, wife of the British Prime Minister.

The people that the UH student met were all the who’s who of the National Council.  They asked her about everything.  But she did not whitewash her story or play down the difficulty of her living in effect in two worlds, Israel and Ethiopia, even if “I now live peacefully” with this.  “Now I know how to identify myself,” she states.

For their part, the women did not try to pity her.  If they had, “I would have felt it,” she remarks.  As Tarkay sees it, the women were “helping me out a feeling to do me good.   So I can strive to be in their place one day.”  She sees a difference. Being pitied, she said, a person does not have a feeling of being strong, of being independent.

The student-scholar’s feeling of strength stood her well when in Canberra she met with Australia ’s Deputy Minister for Women’s Affairs, Family, and Community; and later, when the Israeli ambassador to Australia invited her to tea. 

She also met and talked with aboriginals at a demonstration they were holding.  She met Jewish youth her age at a parlor meeting in Melbourne and felt completely accepted by them.

No matter whom she talked with, Tarkay said, she listened carefully to what they told her.  “Everything they said was important to me,” she commented.

Her hosts were also concerned that the young visitor enjoy herself in addition to her official duties—“they wanted me to have quality time apart from the mission” was how she expressed it.  She was taken to a zoo (“You can’t come to Australia without seeing a zoo,” one of the women advised her) and “let loose” in a clothing store owned by one of her hosts. 

Staying with families over Shabbat and other times was an experience, too.  “I had serious conversations with them” she related.  “I got the feeling I knew them for years.  I met young people whom I will remain in contact with in the future.”

As for her own future, Yafa Tarkay knows she wants to help people.  She will pursue a Master’s degree while continuing in her vocation as social worker.  There seems little doubt that her Australia experience, as the University’s envoy and as scholar-in-residence with that continent’s NCJW, had reciprocal beneficial effect, to be remembered many years into the future.


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