Someone Else’s Simcha Purim in South Tel Aviv - Hiding Behind the Glitter

In the basement of an industrial building, teachers and volunteers try to brighten the day of asylum seekers’ kids.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
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Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: D.’s Kindergarten

Time: 10 A.M.

In the neighborhood: Four-story industrial buildings, soot-stained and graffiti-filled, line the narrow winding streets that characterize south Tel Aviv. Under a newly emerged sun, the asphalt glistens gold following two days of late-winter rain. On a damp wall, a small poster informs passersby about a missing foreign worker from Sri Lanka.

Venue: Inside a derelict building and down several flights of narrow stairs, the tight basement’s floor is one of those kiddy carpet-maps of streets and houses, just waiting for a little hand to push around a little car. Decorations hang from the ceiling above lines of tiny plastic chairs and wooden tables.

Simcha: Celebrating Purim at a kindergarten for asylum seekers’ children

Number of guests: ~30

A brief history of time: The kindergarten was launched by D., a young Ghanaian woman who arrived in Israel six years ago seeking a better life in the Holy Land. After a three-year stint as an au pair for triplets in affluent Herzliya Pituah, D. turned to cleaning and then taking care of local children, along with fellow Ghanaians. About 50 children use the kindergarten’s services daily from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M.; most of them are of Sudanese, Ghanaian and Eritrean descent.

Two months ago, the kindergarten’s fortunes took a turn for the better after the Tzima’on NGO, launched by legendary singer-songwriter Shlomo Artzi 12 years ago, took D.’s humble institution under its wing. “The walls were dirty and peeling; there wasn’t a toy to be found,” says Carmit, who runs the project for Tzima’on. “We only found kids lying on mattresses.”

After just two months, the modest place was modestly transformed by new chairs, tables, mattresses, games and weekly or monthly activities.

“The happiness I feel by giving to these children and the moments of happiness we give them are exhilarating,” says Carmit. “That’s my reward.”

Rites: Inside the tight room, a brilliant array of colors and shapes shoots from every corner as little kids, dressed as princesses, police officers and firemen, scamper about, their eyes glistening as they wait to be made up by D. or one of the several volunteers. In one corner, Eilon, 23, a young male volunteer dressed in a florescent tutu and headdress, helps boys and girls put on makeup as they bounce around his knees.

Elsewhere, Hadar, 23, and Roni, also volunteers, dressed as an Indian squaw and a ballerina, respectively, make up the faces of little girls in iridescent dresses.

Michal, who chairs Tzima’on: “This is really the beautiful side of Israel. About 80 volunteers that give their time. There are real, touching moments of grace here.”

As the makeup session finishes, D., the head teacher, a migrant worker from Ghana, lifts up a full-length mirror to let the kids see their new faces. The room breaks into a happy yelp. Next, the ra’ashanim (noisemakers) are handed out; the joyous buzz morphs into constant clamor.

Once the din fades a bit, the giddy kids are corralled into their chairs, where volunteers Yael and Barak, the latter dressed as a cowboy, lead the gang in traditional Purim songs. Everybody knows the words.

Over to the side, E., an assistant teacher from Ghana, notes the specter of being seized by the immigration authorities: “One time a man who worked here was caught by the police and he had to take his kids out of the kindergarten.” D.: “It used to be that they wouldn’t deport people with kids, but now they do. Now they put them in jail with their kids. I know of people who just couldn’t stay with their children in prison, so they went back to Ghana.”

After the singing session, everyone huddles for a group photo, as another assistant, dressed as a clown, takes the winning shot using his tablet computer.

And what better way to culminate a frenzied Purim morning than with mishlohei manot – Purim baskets, usually filled with candy. Barak brings out the packages one by one. The small hands and fingers greedily tear into packets of sweets.

Up on the ceiling, a fat drop of water falls from a moldy patch, clicking on the linoleum floor.

Music: Purim songs, along with the general happy mayhem.

Food: Marshmallows, toffee, a variety of chocolate bars, and baby food.

Drink: Water.

Word in the ear: Michal: “People say ‘they need to go back to where they came from,’ but the moment they see the kids, something opens up inside them. They see that they’re people.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: That children enjoy and feel what children enjoy and feel, regardless, and despite the way grown-ups run, or ruin, their world.

Random Quote: Barak, mumbling as he exaggerates in describing each food item he pulls out of the cardboard box: “This over-dramatization is killing me.”

Want to take part in one of Tzima’on’s projects or just take part in Someone Else’s Simcha? Send word to:

Purim in south Tel Aviv. Photos by Gil Cohen-Magen

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