A few weeks ago, I was in south Tel Aviv on a Friday night conducting research. As I walked down Salame Street, I heard a chorus singing above me. It was coming from the second story of a low-slung, dilapidated apartment building.
I saw a few latecomers entering the building — Eritrean women draped in white; Eritrean men, also wearing white, and carrying what looked like large walking sticks. As I listened to the music, I realized the sticks were being struck against the floor for percussion. I guessed that the singing was probably some sort of prayer.
There was something deeply moving about the hope and devotion I heard in the voices. Amid the poverty and desperation of south Tel Aviv; amid the growing threats to and violence towards the refugee community; as the government incites against Africans; on the eve of the deportation of south Sudanese–still, these people had faith. No, it was more than faith. Their voices carried joy.
The singing gave me goose bumps and I stood on the street corner, transfixed. I managed at some point to get my recorder out–I’d just been conducting interviews–and took the following audio:
When the singing ended, the clerk at the kiosk adjacent to the building told me that there is an Eritrean church there. It’s packed every Friday night and Saturday morning, he added.
It reminded me of the hidden Filipino churches I’d been to in south Tel Aviv–tiny, bare bone chapels without signs. There, I watched women weep as they begged God to stop the deportation of Israeli-born children of migrant workers. I saw these same women cry out of gratitude for the life they have, no matter how difficult their circumstances.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the big threat to, as Eli Yishai calls Israel, “the Zionist project.” Men and women and children who–when faced with violence and detention and deportation–lift their voices in prayer.