About eight months ago, Galia Sabar received an email that she thought was an Internet scam. Like one of those letters from Nigeria pleading for money. But this was from a foundation associated with the Dalai Lama, and it was real, and the message was that Sabar would be the first Israeli to receive the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award from the Tibetan holy man himself.
“I thought to myself, how did they know about my work?” Sabar recalled a few days after receiving the award alongside 48 others at a ceremony in San Francisco. Her work is worth recognizing: As chair of the African Studies department at Tel Aviv University, Sabar has artfully combined her academic knowledge of Africa with on-the-ground efforts to aid people in need.
She was involved with Operation Moses, the humanitarian effort dedicated to rescuing Ethiopian Jews in the early 1980s. From that experience, she grew interested in the role African migrants — both legal and not — played in Israeli society, and now works with the Israel Religious Action Center and other not-for-profit groups to fight prejudice and racism in the country.
The mother of five children — two of whom are right now in active combat units in the Israeli military — Sabar has no illusions about the struggles still faced by migrants of color. But she has seen great strides in the decades since her work began. By way of example, she recalls the thousands of migrants who joined together in a massive Passover seder this year, in the middle of the central bus station in Tel Aviv.
“They were singing songs, eating matzo — in the heart of the city. It was amazing!” she said. “Israel is not an either/or reality. It’s a both/and. Full of despair, and full of hope.”