Impact Stories:

COVID-19 Relief Stories: Ethiopian Olim

Helping Ethiopians Escape Violence to Reconnect With Israel

An Ethiopian mother and child, masked, walk away from a ramp from an Ethiopian Airlines plane
Ethiopian immigrants (olim) arrive in Israel

Over the past year, violence rocked Ethiopia as ethnic tensions flared during a global pandemic. For those families awaiting immigration to Israel, hardship became impossible to avoid. In fact, at the onset of the pandemic, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh provided emergency funding towards personal protective equipment, hygiene, medication and nutrition support for Ethiopians awaiting aliyah (emigration to Israel) in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and in Gondar, the capital of northern Ethiopia.

On February 26, 2021, the lives of 280 of these Ethiopian Jews changed forever thanks in part to the Jewish Federation’s Community Campaign. As part of Operation Tzur Yisrael (Rock of Israel), these olim, or immigrants, landed in Israel, fulfilling a lifelong dream to return to their ancestral homeland. Through our international partner the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Jewish Federation played an integral role in bringing these Jews home and now providing a wide range of support for their successful absorption into Israeli society.

Kim Salzman, the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation’s Director of Israel and Overseas Operations, welcomed the new arrivals on site that morning.

“Many of these new olim have been waiting for years to return to Jerusalem and reunite with their families. You could see how overwhelmed they were with emotion when the stepped onto Israeli soil, bent down on hands and knees and kissed the ground.”

Thanks to funding from the Community Campaign and from Jewish Federations across the U.S. and Canada, Israel and JAFI launched Operation Tzur Yisrael to bring an additional 2,000 immigrants from Ethiopia over the next six plus months. Many of these Ethiopians have waited for years to immigrate to Israel, to reunite with their family and to start a better life. Their return to Israel is a reminder that the State of Israel serves as a home to all Jews, and that no Jew will be left behind.

Support for Israel by the Numbers

A few of the many ways the Community Campaign has supported Jewish communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

The work does not end, though, once these Jews reach Israeli soil. They must learn Hebrew, integrate into a different culture and begin to reestablish their lives. This process begins in the absorption centers throughout the country, run by JAFI and supported by our Federation funds. The Jewish Federation’s Community Campaign goes further, lifting up Ethiopian Jews and ensuring their successful integration into Israeli society. One significant example is our support for the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh was the first Federation to support ENP and was intimately involved in its creation over 15 years ago. This organization is at the forefront of programs for Ethiopian Israelis grades 7 through 12 that provide support, education and all of the necessary tools to succeed in every stage of life. Today, there are over 155,000 Ethiopian Israelis and more than half were born in the Jewish state.

These Jews are now safe and free to create the lives of which they have always dreamed.

“It is the perfect example of how Israel is truly a Kibbutz Galuyot or the ingathering of the exiles,” said Ms. Salzman.

With support from the Community Campaign, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will continue to play an integral role in helping Ethiopian Jews return to their homeland and flourish.


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