Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
This past week, community members gathered to hear Sefitu Ezra, a young Israeli woman who emigrated as a child with her family from Ethiopia.
Sefitu shared their harrowing journey across the desert and the challenges of acclimating to a totally new way of life. She shared the personal story of her life’s quantum leap from drawing river water near her Ethiopian village as a girl, to drawing blood as a National Service Volunteer at Soroka Hospital in Beersheva.
Being from a largely agricultural society, neither Sefitu nor her five siblings had ever been to school. Despite not knowing how to read or write, Sefitu entered third grade when she came to Israel. Though her peers were much more advanced, Sefitu and her siblings were thrilled for the opportunity to learn and to help their parents. A caring teacher noticed Sefitu’s determination and recommended her for Ethiopian National Project’s School Performance & Academic and Community Engagement (SPACE) program, which provides mentors, enriching field trips, nutritious snacks and parent workshops to help these at-risk youth thrive. Sefitu graduated from the program and as I mentioned, is now volunteering at the Soroka Hospital as she continues her education to become a medical doctor.
She shared with us, “I am where I am because of those who supported the launch of SPACE in my school so I can be a doctor. Thank you to the Jewish Federations for making SPACE part of my life.”
Working with the Israeli government, Jewish Federations of North America created Project 1460, named for the number of days these children are in a 4-year school to help cover the cost of Israeli children of Ethiopian origin, so that they can participate in the program and matriculate to higher education.
I am happy to learn that 72% of the children who complete the program go on to complete their high school exams-exceeding the 68% national average of all Jewish Israelis. Unfortunately, we’re reaching less than 19% of this population. We can do better than that!
Grace Rodnitzki of Ethiopian National Project shared that it costs $588 for one student to attend for a year and that the Israeli government is matching donations to Project 1460 dollar for dollar. I was deeply moved, when I saw a $588 contribution being entered that was quietly given by a non-Jewish member of our Federation support staff. It was the first gift made to this vital program by the Phoenix community. We often talk about leading by example and that’s exactly what this very special person did without any fanfare.
This week’s Torah portion is Re’eh (See), in Deuteronomy. It encourages us to give tzedakah (justice/charity) to those in need and do so with a happy heart. I contend, more than any tradition in Judaism, that it is tzedakah, that has preserved the Jewish community for thousands of years. Another tenet of Jewish teaching is that we are all responsible one for the other. Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters have made the ultimate commitment to their heritage and our Jewish future by making Aliyah, giving up the only home they’ve ever known and arriving with little more than the clothes on their back. I remind us all that while it took decades to bring the Ethiopian Jews home, it takes only 1460 days to transform an entire generation. I am proud that Federations across North America support this type of programming. I hope that you are too.