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For the week ending 27 February 2016 / 18 Adar I 5776

Yoel Yedidyah Betzalel

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age 25 - Mbanga, Cameroon

B.A. in Professional Accounting
Certificate (S.A.) in Computer Accounting
Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning
Diploma of Financial Planning
Certifications in Journalism - Certificate III & Certificate IV in News, Screen & Media
Diploma of Business Administration - Kuala Lumpur

Currently in Ohr Somayach's Mechina Program

Part One: The Early Years - from Africa to Australia

One can fly from Yaoundé, the capital city of Cameroon in Central Africa, to Tel Aviv, with a stopover in Istanbul, in approximately 18 hours. Yoel took a slight detour. It took him more than 20 years.

Growing up in his grandmother’s home in Mbanga, a small town 50 minutes from Douala, the largest city in Cameroon, Yoel was a scion of a distinguished clan in the Bamileké Tribe of Bangangté in West Cameroon. His great-grandfather, Men MaFeun Nga’an (the title “Men MaFeun” literally means “son of the king’s mother”, or “prince”), had been a ruler in the region, and his grandmother was the honored matriarch of the family. When Yoel was around eleven years old she sent him to his granduncle’s home in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, for a better educational opportunities and a bright future. His granduncle was a prominent physician, the owner of a medical clinic in the city, and a serious man who expected his grandnephew to study hard and excel.

Yoel flourished in Yaounde and was a serious, astute student. He also became involved in Catholicism, the religion of most of his family. He loved singing and prayer, and he served as an altar boy twice a day, before and after school and on Sundays, at the city’s main cathedral.

When he was fifteen, and in his second year of high school, Yoel’s grandmother and other important family members decided that for the benefit of his further education he should move to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to live with mother’s younger brother who was a businessman there. There he would attend the International School, which was conducted in English. Until this point Yoel spoke French, which is one of the two official languages in Cameroon, along with his grandmother’s local dialect, alternatively called Medimba or Bangangté. He enrolled in diploma-level courses in business administration and in architecture. He also attended a Catholic church in Kuala Lumpur, but, being one of the only Africans in the congregation, he did not feel comfortable there. When his aunt who was the pastor of a Pentecostal church in the city invited him to come to her church, he went.

Yoel loved the singing and the familiar melodies, and joined the choir in his aunt’s church. He felt more comfortable there. Over time he became more interested in the study of the religious texts. Although the Pentecostal theology was somewhat different from Catholicism, there were enough similarities for him to make a smooth transition. Nearly three years later he left Malaysia with a Diploma in Business Administration and one year of architecture studies, and moved to Sydney, Australia.

Until this point in his life Yoel had yet to meet a Jew. In fact, he wasn't even sure that Jews actually still existed. To him, Jews were a “mythical people”, who had become an accursed nation that sowed conflict and dissension wherever they went. He was soon to learn otherwise.

To be continued...

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