Demas, immigrant from Ethiopia
Demas, who is now 23 years old, came to Israel with his mother and four brothers when he was a teenager. The family had waited in Gondar, Ethiopia for a full year to receive permission to make Aliya. Just one week after moving into their apartment, the mother fell seriously ill. She died soon after, leaving five orphaned, devastated children facing an uncertain and terrifying future. As decisions were being made concerning the children’s fate, Selah came into their lives. “That’s when we met Micha from Selah,” says Demas. “He’s our father. Not by color – but by soul. I was 16 at the time. Since then, Micha has been helping us. Together, with the whole Selah team, we are able to cope with challenges immigrants face. If Selah’s team can’t solve a problem immediately, they turn the world upside down to get it done.”
In the Ethiopian community, it is traditional for the older siblings to take on the responsibility of the younger ones – not to divide the children up among aunts, uncles or the state. And that is what happened with Demas’ family: the older siblings, including Demas and his brother Derebe, took on the daunting job of raising their younger brothers. Through the years, Selah has helped with food, clothing, vouchers for the holidays, grief support, and counsel regarding the children’s life choices. With a lot of support, financial and emotional, the family has been able to hold itself together against all odds.
On top of all his responsibilities at home, Demas did well in his studies. Upon graduating from high school, he was awarded the prestigious Ramon Honorary Citation, in honor of Ilan and Asaf Ramon, for excellence and leadership skills. He then began his military service and went on to become an officer in the IDF. During his service, Demas was involved in an incident near a road block due to a suspected bomb. He requested permission to pass, because he lived in the area, but was refused by the policeman standing guard. Demas protested and was then knocked off his bike and beaten. The incident was caught on a video camera and went viral, sparking a wave of protests and much-needed reform regarding the treatment of Ethiopians.
Demas and his siblings attend Selah’s bi-annual Healing Retreats focused on orphaned older siblings of Ethiopian origin raising their younger siblings. Most of the older siblings are just teenagers. He remarked, “We’re all orphans. It’s important to meet others in the same situations. When the older siblings meet, we discuss what would happen if Selah wasn’t there anymore in a few years. We believe that if not for Selah, our families would have collapsed. Although we don’t have our beloved parents, we learned to cope in spite of that. We even made a WhatsApp group of older siblings raising their orphaned younger siblings.”
Demas and his family overcame a shattering family tragedy and have been able to put their lives back together. Throughout it all, Selah has been there, with Demas and his siblings, as aid and advocate.