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Young Israeli Helps Darfur Muslims Find Refuge and Hope in the Jewish


Every year, thousands of refugees from Darfur flee genocide and head into neighboring countries. Many end up in an unlikely destination: Israel -- a country they have been taught to abhor. One man, Yotam Sheffy, an Israeli, is helping many of them, fostering hope - against all odds. Our latest edition of the weekly series, "Making a Difference."

Their faces speak of trauma, their injuries of the suffering they endured in reaching safety, in Israel. Some arrive here in Tel Aviv with bullet wounds. They were shot, they say, by Egyptian snipers as they ran across desert toward the Israeli border.

In a country that has historically welcomed only Jewish refugees, their plight is invisible to many here -- but not to 25 year-old Yotam Sheffy. He has spent the last few of years of his life fighting to get them food, access to emergency health care, education, and, most importantly, a life without fear.

Opening the door for desperate Darfurians, regardless of their different race and religion, he says, is the natural thing to do. He draws lessons from his grandparents - Polish and Bulgarian survivors of the Holocaust - in his drive to help the Muslim refugees.

"They are refugees," Sheffy said. "Like my grandparents were 50 years ago in Europe. There's no difference. And if the doors weren't open there for my grandmother by simple village Christians, not me nor my father would be alive."

Tel Aviv's Lewinsky Park is where hundreds of Darfurians camped before shelters of them opened in the last two years.

Since then, the efforts that Sheffy has pioneered have blossomed, and other young Israelis are now joining in to help the refugees.

Twenty-three year old David Refaeli gathered volunteers from all over Israel for a fun day in the park for children who are the victims of persecution. "This, of course, appeals to the Jewish heart, and Jews that also, 60-years-ago, were also persecuted for who they are. What's going on there, as I understand it, it's a holocaust, also," Refaeli said.

Israel has spent much of its 60 year history fighting Islamic terrorists. Finding sympathy for Muslim refugees here is not always easy. But Yotam Sheffey and his coworkers manage to touch hearts daily, keeping donations coming, and hope alive.

For Sheffy, who found his calling one day when he came by a shelter to deliver donations, the lessons of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, ring loud and clear.
"She would always say, whoever goes like this to you, give (to) him. Don't ask why," Sheffy recalls.

Yotam Sheffy has picked a tough battle, helping Israel's often invisible refugees.

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