"Completing the Journey" A Historic Mission
Imagine being able to bear witness to a modern-day miracle, raise awareness of Ethiopian aliyah and gain a deeper appreciation for the work of Federation's overseas partners that help Ethiopian olim (immigrants to Israel) integrate into Israeli society.
Recently, Palm Beach Gardens resident Lisa Seymour, an elementary school librarian, member of JFNA's National Young Leadership Cabinet and a Federation lay leader, was able to do just that.
As one of 43 mission participants from across North America, Seymour journeyed from Ethiopia to Israel, walking toward Sudan, starting off on a route that emigrés had followed by foot toward Israel, the freedom to practice Judaism, and a better life.
Federation-funded programs play a large part in the successful resettlement of Ethiopian Jews in Israel. The fact is, Jewish Federations, the government of Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) have campaigned to resettle 90,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel for the past 30 years.
The group visited the Federation-supported institutions in Ethiopia that played central role throughout the Ethiopian aliyah, from a school to a health clinic, as well as food assistance and community centers.
“We saw – in person – how our local generosity has been helping the Ethiopian Jews prepare for life in their new home in Israel,” said Seymour. "It was amazing to see how poor, rural people, many of them illiterate, have been able to leave their mud huts with thatched roofs, outdoor cooking and no utilities. In Gondar, they've been learning to read and write, speak Hebrew and use cell-phones. They've gotten health care and learned about nutrition, along with many other things needed for their new lives. We can't prepare them 100 percent for life in Israel, but we can make a great difference toward their transition."
"We attended a service at a synagogue," said Seymour. "Recognizing the same prayers, tallitot (prayer shawls), kippot (head coverings) and tefillin (phylacteries) from our own Jewish practices, we realized how Jews are Jews, wherever we are!"
In Israel, the group visited an immigration absorption center in Ashkelon. There, they met new Ethiopian olim, listened to their stories and learned about Federation-funded human services that help them successfully integrate into Israeli society. Services include:
- The JDC's Parents & Children Together (PACT) program, a city-wide Ethiopian-Israeli intervention program in Ramla that gives more than 1,000 children and their families a firm foundation to succeed within Israeli society through preschool, literacy-development and enrichment programs.
- JAFI's Youth Futures Program for disadvantaged children in Israel's TZAHAR Region, which helps to instill self-confidence and academic achievement, giving young people the opportunity to have a more meaningful life as adults in Israeli society. Currently, 392 at-risk children in the TZAHAR Region benefit from their Youth Trustee role models, who help them – and their families – access education, health and welfare resources.
This mission eloquently illustrates the impact that Federation makes around the world in enriching Jewish life, caring for vulnerable populations and building Jewish community.