The Next American Idol

By Diane Winston 

Like most almost 14-year-olds, Rivka Bayene has big dreams.

 “I’m going to America, I’m going to sing, I’m going to be on ‘American Idol,’” she told a roomful of guests at Kedma School, her home away from home in Jerusalem’s south central Katamon neighborhood.

Katamon looks similar to LA’s South Central neighborhood.  Houses are neat but need a fresh coat of paint, grass pokes out from cracks in the sidewalks and trash chokes weeds in large, empty lots. Katamon also is home to the city’s people of color, and Kedma School is a safe haven for black and brown Jews.

Rivka’s parents immigrated to Israel when she was a year old. Her father wanted her to have a better life than the one awaiting her in Addis Ababa. But when she started school, Rivka learned it was hard to be different in Israel. Between 90,000 and 120,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. In the 1980s, the Israeli government mounted “rescue” operations to bring home these “lost” and “forgotten” African Jews. But many Ethiopians say they have faced discrimination, if not outright racism, in their new country. 

“People didn’t want to be close,” Rivka said, describing life at her old school.

Happily, things are different at Kedma where the faculty works to create a loving and supportive atmosphere. The only school of its kind in the city, it welcomes children who have had difficulty fitting into public schools. Rivka said she was relieved to find people at Kedma who looked like her, and teachers who wanted to hug her. But she says the journey is not over. She’s planning to be the next Rihanna and she expects she will need to move to the US if she wants to succeed big-time.

“In America, they have many black people,” she told us, adding with a sly smile, “It’s going to be good.”

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