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ICEJ Closing Education Gap for Recently Arrived Ethiopian Jews

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Posted on: 
27 Jan 2022
ICEJ Closing Education Gap for Recently Arrived Ethiopian Jews

The modern-day return of the Ethiopian Jewish community to Israel has often been a story of daring rescues of endangered members of this ancient community. It also is turning into a true success story as more and more Ethiopians are finding their way in Israel’s modern, hi-tech society. This has required a lot of drive and determination by the Ethiopian immigrants themselves, as well as numerous outside efforts and projects to help them get acclimated to life in Israel. The ICEJ is actively involved in both phases of their return, knowing that the Aliyah flights we sponsor normally take only a few hours, but the absorption phase requires years of investment of our time and resources on their behalf.

In recent decades, Israel has brought over 90,000 Ethiopian Jews home to the Promised Land, while another 60,000 have been born in the Land. The Ethiopian Aliyah has often come in waves, including the historic emergency airlifts known as “Operation Moses”, which rescued over 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from rundown refugee camps in Sudan in 1984, and “Operation Solomon”, which rescued nearly 15,000 in one weekend in May 1991. Last year, the “Operation Rock of Israel” airlift flew another 2,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel amid a peak in the coronavirus pandemic in Ethiopia. And now, due to the smoldering civil war and worsening famine conditions in Ethiopia, Israel is planning another airlift of 3,000 more Ethiopian Jews who are expected to start arriving this spring.

Since the Israeli cabinet decided to renew the Ethiopian Aliyah in 2015, the ICEJ has sponsored flights for 2,590 Ethiopian Jewish immigrants – which is roughly half of the number who have arrived in that time. Currently, we are raising funds to bring several hundred more as part of the upcoming airlift. But just as important as providing flights for these new arrivals is helping see them through the crucial absorption phase, which usually takes much longer than most other immigrant communities. Thus, over the past decade the ICEJ has expanded its efforts to assist Ethiopian newcomers by sponsoring projects that help them integrate better into Israeli society.

The current wave of Ethiopian Aliyah is presenting the ICEJ with some unique opportunities to help them adjust more quickly to Israel. Amira Ahronoviz, CEO of The Jewish Agency For Israel, recently gave a briefing to supporters of the Ethiopian Aliyah in which she described what is changing with the latest groups arriving in Israel that gives her so much hope.

“For Ethiopian Jews, the dream of reaching the Promised Land is fulfilled once they land in Israel. They kiss the ground and burst into tears, and we share that moment with them,” explained Ahronoviz. “But the real work for us only begins once they arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport. They face huge gaps in language and education, and the lack of skills needed to compete for good positions in the Israeli job market. Because of these gaps, the Ethiopians are the only immigrant community who are given two full years for free in absorption facilities.”

But then she noted an interesting change which is making her more optimistic about the current wave of Aliyah, which is very different than the previous waves from Ethiopia.

“Those families who are now being reunited – the 2,000 that we brought last year as well as the 3,000 we are now working to bring very quickly – are ones that have spent quite a significant period of time in an urban environment,” said Ahronoviz. “They left their small farming villages more than a decade ago, and so many of the children and the younger adults have actually grown up in an urban environment.”

“Many of them have attended school or received some sort of formal education and have been exposed more to technology and modern life,” she continued. “This means that they come to Israel with a better base for us to help them acclimate into a Western society. And we are seeing that suddenly, we have more than 100 of them with higher academic degrees within our absorption centers. We have more than 500 of them who have completed 12 years of education, which is phenomenal because it means that it sets them on a whole different accelerated track of absorption in Israel.”

“We see that in some vocational training courses, we assumed not more than 20 would enroll in computer literacy skills, but then found 80 of them standing in line to join the courses,” added Ahronoviz. “That's magic! We were never able to do that in the past.”

So the good news is that many of the recently arrived Ethiopian Jewish immigrants already have some level of computer skills to help them get settled more quickly in Israel. But there are some who cannot afford a decent home computer, or have to share an older computer model with several family members. There are also many who first have to complete their high school education before they can enroll in university studies or vocational training courses. To help them, the ICEJ is currently sponsoring a special program for up to 25 recent Ethiopian immigrants who have 8-to-11 years of education which will allow them to earn a high school degree within nine months. The support we are giving includes providing them with computers to complete the course.

“Once again, the ICEJ is leading the way with an amazing cutting-edge program for Ethiopian immigrants,” said Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for Aid & Aliyah. “These young students need computers and other assistance to close the education gap they face for a successful integration. So, even while we are waiting for the next Aliyah flights we will be sponsoring, we already have the opportunity to help other recently arrived Ethiopian students get a faster start to settling in Israel.”

We invite you to join us in making the return of more Ethiopian Jews a true success story. Help us be ready not only to sponsor their Aliyah flights, but also to be waiting with the educational courses and computers they will need to quicken their adjustment to life in Israel. Support our Aliyah and Integration efforts today.



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