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Lifting the Domari People

ICEJ distributes food boxes and provides food vouchers for delivery to Domari families.

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Posted on: 
3 Nov 2020
Lifting the Domari People

Have you heard of the Domari people? They are a small tribe of Gypsies who made their way from India to the Middle East around 800 years ago, as opposed to the Romani people who migrated into Europe. Today, approximately 1,000 Domari live in a small Arab quarter within the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

These Domari families consider themselves an ethnic minority living within a minority. Although they dwell among Arabs, they do not fully identify as Arabs. They also do not feel recognised as Israelis. Falling somewhere in-between, they find themselves often forgotten by society, which has made them a very close-knit and protective community. They have their own Domari language, which does not use an alphabet. Many of the children drop out of school at an early age and as a result, many are illiterate and uneducated.

When approached by Amoun Sleem, director of the Domari Community Centre in eastern Jerusalem, the ICEJ immediately sought ways to help this minority people struggling to survive during the Coronavirus pandemic. Although their needs are many, we promptly packed food boxes and provided food vouchers for delivery to dozens of Domari families through the community centre.

Walking into the very colorful facility, we were welcomed with Domari hospitality and offered fragrant sage tea and date biscuits. Amoun explained that as a child, she too dropped out of school early because she so often felt discriminated against. Wanting to make a difference for future generations, she started the community centre 20 years ago in her home. Together with Domari children, she learned to read and write. The centre eventually grew and moved into its current location in 2007.

With a focus on educational programs, the Domari centre is a place of hope for some 20 children from six years old upwards. The Dom children participate in after-school activities and are encouraged to persevere to complete their studies. They attend the centre from kindergarten through high school, and only when they graduate does the centre take on new children.

“Many of the children who have graduated, have gone on to complete university degrees or have found good careers,” Amoun said. She even recalls one child becoming a musician! The hope is that these children will continue to support their community as adults.

The Domari centre also provides adult literacy courses and empowers women in their small community. Many of the women are illiterate, downcast, often rejected by men, and dependent on substance abuse. They are taught to make typical Gypsy handicraft items, thereby preserving their culture. When the items are sold, it gives the women an income and helps them gain independence. The beautiful, bright and colorful handiwork is on display at the centre, including embroidered items, fabric painted cushion covers, jewelry, fabric bags, and many more creative works.

“We are so thankful to be able to offer support to the Domari Gypsies,” said Jannie Tolhoek from the ICEJ AID department.

“Thank you to the Christians for coming alongside to help our community”, responded Amoun.

Indeed, thank you to everyone who has supported the AID projects of the Christian Embassy, which are touching and lifting those at the lowest levels of Israeli society.

Please consider making a gift today.

 

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