"Shades of black": The perceptions of Ethiopian-Israeli husbands of their working wives

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Yitzhak Ruth

Studies on the Ethiopian-Israeli population, for the most part, focus on the negative phenomena that arise in their encounter with Westernism, and the extreme phenomena stemming from these cultural gaps. Thus, naturally, Ethiopian society is presented (in the media, research literature, and CBS data) mainly on its weaknesses and extreme cases.

In addition to the studies on the subject, public opinion is also based mainly on the Israeli media, which deals with Ethiopian immigrants mainly in the context of crime, violence, educational gaps, employment gaps, discrimination and racism, difficulties in adjusting and more. These always stand in a dichotomous comparison to Western Israeli society, which is presented as a model of "correct society," whose characteristics are perceived as something to aspire to. I believe that expressions of adjustment difficulties of an immigrant society are also a result of the characteristics of the absorbing society and its attitude towards immigrant absorption.

However , Ethiopian immigrants face difficulties and significant gaps, but the community is often presented for its weaknesses, thereby missing out on the emphasis on the healthy and functioning forces within it. This is a community whose members have survived a difficult journey, hardships and disasters on their way to Israel, and live in the shadow of this journey. At the same time, they try to integrate the culture of origin with Israeli culture, while preserving their identity, including emphasized values ​​such as respect, humility, hospitality and help to others who lived in communities with mutual assistance as a supreme value.

In my study, which deals with the experiences and attitudes of Ethiopian men regarding intercultural passage, as reflected in the employment of their spouses, an attempt was made to place the two cultures, Ethiopian and Western, in a non-hierarchical or judicial manner. Alongside the difficulties of adaptation of Ethiopian immigrants, who have received great attention in research to this day, there are quite a few achievements and successes.

The departure of women for work and career development is an interesting aspect of the intercultural transition of Ethiopian immigrants. In fact, this is a characteristic of modern culture, which aspires to greater equality than traditional societies. It establishes greater independence for women and the demand for a more egalitarian partnership, forcing men to fulfill roles and tasks that were not part of the traditional culture from which they came. How do men experience it? how do they perceive their working spouses? what are the new characteristics of the partnership and their sense of masculinity? will it be possible, when clarifying the answers to these questions, to shed some light on the statistics of such concern, which are viewed among the Ethiopian community? for example, data from the Central Bureau of Statistics (2018) show that the rate of divorce among the population of Ethiopian origin is higher than that of the Jewish population. About 16 of all 1,000 married couples divorced, compared to 9 per 1,000 of all Jews. The percentage of families headed by an independent parent (single parent) among families of Ethiopian origin is particularly high: approximately 29%, more than twice the percentage of families headed by an independent parent in general. The data also show that about 20.6% of the women who were murdered in Israel by their partners during the years 2004-2012 are from Ethiopia, while only 1.5% are from Israeli society.

The study was conducted using a qualitative method, based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 12 Ethiopian men between the ages of 30 and 60 who are married to working women that and even have a successful career.

Analysis of the interviewees' testimonies revealed two main themes: 1. The first deals with the challenges and prices faced by Ethiopian men who are married to working women that even have a successful career. 2. The second deals with the ways in which Ethiopian men cope with the relationship between working and successful women.

Most of the interviewees presented four challenges and prices: "It is not easy for us - the journey to shaping the values ​​of the traditional Ethiopian family in Israeli society is not yet over"; "Hand in hand we will march all the way" - building a Relationship, shadow searching through; "I have one and the other - I have both" - traditional perceptions, versus modern concepts; Masculinity in my own way.

The interviewees also described three ways of coping with the challenges and prices in the marital relationship: Do not keep anything inside, you and I will change the world - mutual help in relationships, strangers do not knock on the door - do not involve the extended family in the marital system.

The findings revealed to me the narratives of the men, in which they related their experiences to their wives, their masculinity, their family life, and the change that took place in the family and in their family roles. These provided a unique glimpse into the process of change taking place in the Ethiopian community, their adaptation to modern Israeli culture, and the traditional characteristics that they preserve. Among these things, one can also learn about their unique challenges, the indisputable "sacred violations," as well as the great dignity of men, and perhaps hint at the difficulties of the process of change, those that often produce a crisis and even in extreme cases contribute to the problematic statistics

In addition, my work has added an important and significant dimension that was missing to this day in research on Ethiopian society in Israel. It presented us with a wide range of strategies for dealing with the immigration crisis of Ethiopian immigrants and provided a glimpse into families that found their way to optimal and adaptive integration into Israeli culture. The wide perspective on the society from which I come enabled me to understand the magnitude of the community's social achievement, the depth of the change that is required of Ethiopian families and their willingness to overcome the challenges it brings. I found it extremely important to deal with the "healthy" parts of this society and the research focus on the many successes of Ethiopian families in the assimilation of Israeli culture. They can provide an additional dimension to Ethiopian immigrants, serve as a model and serve as a unique indicator to which Ethiopian immigrants can aspire to and teach us about the possibilities faced by Ethiopian families and the caregivers who seek to benefit and facilitate their integration into modern Israeli society.

In the theoretical contribution, first and foremost, the study teaches us about the functioning, normative and adaptive forces of Ethiopian society in Israel. The circular pattern of the presence of pathologies and difficult statistics leading to stereotyping, which continues to intensify the preoccupation with the problems of the Ethiopian immigrants and the extreme cases among them, seems endless. A research emphasis on the "healthy" and "adaptive" processes of these families can break through the difficult cycle and create another model, empowering and strengthening, for the Ethiopian family in Israel. Such a model can expand positive narratives and create a central stream to which one can aspire. Thus, the proponents, encouraging, sympathizers and supporters of Ethiopian men, as expressed in this study, will also receive expression and place.

In the practical contribution, the research findings, can provide us with a therapeutic perspective, based on the strengths of the multicultural characteristics of Ethiopian families in Israel, and serve as an infrastructure for developing models of therapeutic interventions unique to the community. The understanding of class dialectics between men and women of Ethiopian origin can advance and define the goals and therapeutic goals in working with them. For example, our understanding of the "compromise" that Ethiopian men agree to uphold, as long as their dignity is preserved, can define the therapeutic discourse with these families and the goals of the treatment.

In addition, perhaps the most significant contribution of the study is the understanding of the systemic adjustments that must be made in order to make the therapeutic system accessible to the unique characteristics of Ethiopian families. Men of Ethiopian origin will not necessarily reject treatment, and may even prefer it, rather than applying for help from the family and the community. However, they will reduce their request for treatment and counseling services from women. In so doing, they pose a gender challenge to welfare systems in Israel. These include, among other things, beliefs about the absorption of Ethiopian families and the provision of tools that will facilitate their integration into modern Israeli society. The support of the caretakers / social services in these complex processes can equip Ethiopian families with effective coping strategies, encourage the sublimation of the old tools, such as the use of violence, and significantly reduce the harsh statistics of violence among Ethiopian couples. The needs that arise on the ground suggest the essential social need to redesign the services provided to families of Ethiopian origin, so that more families will be able to come and seek counseling and treatment.