When Portlanders think of Israelis, Eden Ferede suspects they do not think of her. She hopes they’ll reconsider.
“When you’re saying that Israelis are the monster, are the occupier, the one responsible for all of that—when you say Israelis, who do you mean?” she asks. “Do you see me? Do you see only white people?”
Ferede was born and raised in Ashkelon, a city in South Israel within rockets’ reach from Gaza. Her parents, Ethiopian Jews, moved to Israel in the 1970s and ’80s.
She now lives in Portland, where she is the Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow to Greater Portland Hillel. That means she helps Jewish students at Portland State University and Lewis & Clark College to learn about their heritage.
These are fraught times to be Israeli in Portland. The exchange of bombs between Hamas and Israel in Gaza has Ferede rushing to her phone for updates from her parents and five siblings. And PSU, where she works, is a longtime center of activism seeking to divest from any company doing business with Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
The Palestinian cause has found common ground with many of Portland’s progressive activists. Last month, Ferede happened upon one such march by accident, while taking a walk downtown with a friend. They stopped speaking Hebrew. Ferede hid her Star of David necklace under her shirt.
She spoke to WW this week to share her experience, and to ask Portlanders to consider that Israelis are not monolithic—many wish for peaceful coexistence with their neighbors.
She also requested a little humility from people far from the bloodshed.
“People need to understand: We are normal people,” she says. “We want both sides to live in peace. The fact that people are trying to minimize the trauma that we have as people is awful. This is our life. I’m going to be back to Ashkelon. I’m going to be the one who lives there. And having those conversations from the comfort zone here? It’s just devastating to me.”