Award-winning speaker highlights all-day event

Galia Sabar, the first and only Israeli woman to be a recipient of the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Heroes of Compassion award, was the featured speaker for a series of events at Kent State Thursday.

The day, which included two speeches by Sabar, a mocktail hour and an Ethiopian dinner, was co-sponsored by the Jewish Studies program, the Department of Pan-African Studies and Hillel.

Chaya Kessler, Jewish Studies program director, said she brought in her “good friend” Sabar, chair of African Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel, to share her experiences as both a social scientist and an Israeli Jew.

“I’d like to share with you my thoughts of being somebody with so many components,” Sabar said.

Kessler said the event was timed with Black History Month.

“We (wanted) to highlight that and to highlight our partnership with Pan-African Studies on campus.”

In her two lectures, Sabar covered challenges facing Israel, specifically regarding the integration of African Jews into the country.

She said she led missions in the 1980s to rescue Ethiopian Jews and bring them to Israel.

“Little did I realize the obstacles they would face in Israel,” she said, citing feelings of discrimination and antagonism among the Israelis toward the immigrants. She said she realized the feelings were “results of ignorance,” and she “fought them with knowledge.”

“We as women have a lot of power and influence,” Sabar said.

In her first lecture, titled, “The Africanization of Israel,” she discussed the challenges of how black Jews from Ethiopia, African migrant workers and African asylum seekers have integrated into Israeli society.

“Most Israelis have never seen black people other than tourists — American tourists,” Sabar said.

Jennifer Chestnut, executive director of Hillel, said she thought the lecture was “fascinating.”

“Whenever I think there are collaborations on campus, it’s great to see the resources and various departments coming together on common themes,” she said after the lecture.

Sabar delivered a final lecture in the Cohn Jewish Student Center chapel, focusing on her own experiences with Jewish and African backgrounds.

She said it’s hard to pick to a single reason why she chose to focus on Africa and Israel.

“I needed to expand my understanding of the region I live in,” she said.

In the 1990s, Sabar said she shifted focus to Kenya, researching the “complex relationship between religion and politics.” She said although she witnessed female genital mutilation, child slavery and other atrocities that marginalize them, she thinks, “African women are the most innovative and creative” in the world in the way they develop “new strategies for surviving.”

After the speech, she answered questions that centered on Israel’s — and other countries’ — absorption of migrants. She said although there are no countries in the world that have handled migration “particularly well,” there must be a balance in Israel.

She said the government wants to accept all refugees, but is “extremely worried” about the number of Africans it takes in.

Either way, she said, “labor migration is here to stay.”

In 2009, her dedication in helping both Israel and Sub-Saharan Africa earned Sabar the Unsung Heroes of Compassion Award from the Dalai Lama.

“She’s done a great deal of work in the community in Israel and Tel Aviv,” said Ricky Marcus, director of Jewish student life at Hillel.

Beyond her work, Sabar talked about her personal life and how she juggles her various roles.

“To be an Israeli, Jew, mother, scientist and social activist woman in 2011 is not an easy life,” she said, “It is not an either/or reality. It is not good or bad… It is both oppressive and liberating.”

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected].

Contact Ryan Collins at [email protected].