August 17, 2019

The Unskilled Worker Improving Her Lot

Tsahai Yeshita

Ethiopian-born Tzahai Yeshita works as an unskilled assistant at Shoham, a geriatric hospital near Pardes Hanna-Karkur in Haifa. Unskilled assistants include nonmedical staff such as porters, cleaners and nursing assistants. 

Yeshita is hoping to change her title — and her destiny — by becoming a skilled worker. To that end, she began attending classes last year for basic life skills, including Hebrew literacy. The classes are taught by volunteers at a nonprofit called Eretz, which arranges literacy and arithmetic courses for menial laborers at four other institutions around Israel. A bonus for the students is that the institutions must agree to pay the workers for the time spent in class. 

Yeshita made aliyah with her family in 1991 from Gonder, Ethiopia. She was already married, but her mother never revealed to her or her younger siblings their final destination. They spent a month in the capital city of Addis Ababa before boarding a plane to Israel. Her father was too scared to leave and he ended his days in Ethiopia. 

Yeshita made aliyah with her family in 1991 from Gonder, Ethiopia. She was already married, but her mother never revealed to her or her younger siblings their final destination. 

Yeshita speaks fondly of her arrival in Israel. Contrary to the grumbles of many new immigrants who lament the reputedly arduous acclimatization process, Yeshita said life at the absorption center in Beersheba was “fun and easy.” 

Her biggest regret, she said, was not learning Hebrew right away. She got pregnant and didn’t bother. Her husband attended an intensive ulpan course to learn the language, and as a result, Yeshita said, “today he has self-confidence and a kind of power.”

Yeshita, on the other hand, is shy and often second-guesses herself, stopping to talk mid-sentence. When she speaks of her children, her voice is laced with a mixture of pride and pain. 

Her oldest son is an engineer and her second son serves as a pilot in the permanent service corps of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Her eyes cloud over when she mentions her youngest, who served in the Givati Brigade. During the 2014 war with Hamas, he was part of a botched operation to rescue the body of an injured lieutenant taken by Hamas terrorists. His commander was killed along with three soldiers. Her son never got over what happened that day and has barely been able to function since. 

“I am angry,” Yeshita said. “This is a good country, but still, my healthy son went [into the IDF] and now I have a son who goes to sleep like the dead.” Weeping silently, she said, “Who hurts more than his mother? Who sees him more than his mother?”

And then, abruptly, she stopped crying and said, “I thank God for giving me strength.” 

Changing the subject to her work, Yeshita said she sometimes tries to bring cheer into the elderly patients’ lives by breaking into song and dance. She adds with pride that now, thanks to her Hebrew classes, she can finally fill out the patients’ forms. 

“I have a lot of desire to learn. I wish to learn more,” she said. “And my children give me the strength and support to do it.”

What’s next for Yeshita?

“I have a dream,” she said. “Maybe I’ll advance to something else. Maybe I’ll become a nurse.”