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Promoting Leadership and Community Advocacy Among Israelis of Ethiopian Descent

Major Gift Will Support Ethiopian National Project

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) honored over 600 students of Ethiopian heritage for their dedication and commitment to leadership and community advocacy at a national summit in Jerusalem on June 19. Government officials from various ministries attended the national summit as did Ethiopian-Israeli students from all over the country. The national summit took place just weeks prior to the fatal police shooting of an 18 year old Ethiopian-Israeli, Solomon Tekah. While the investigation of the shooting is still pending, the eighteen year old's death resulted in demonstrations around the country protesting police bias and institutional and societal racial discrimination against the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

The national summit was a celebration of the achievements of the participating Ethiopian Israeli youth as well as an affirmation that they are the country's future leaders, despite the numerous setbacks the community oftentimes faces. Primarily brought to Israel in two intricate military operations—1984’s Operation Moses, and 1991’s Operation Solomon – the Ethiopian Israeli community has struggled since arriving to Israel from both an economic and social perspective.

The national summit was made possible through a gift of over $600,000 from a private donor. The three-year grant will support the ENP through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, the Federation announced today.

The grant will help Ethiopian Israeli youth to bridge the academic achievement gap present in Israeli society today and to foster a sense of pride in their cultural heritage.

“The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has long supported the ENP, and an anonymous donor family decided to give this extraordinary gift with the Federation’s help—supporting the next generation of Ethiopian Israelis and helping them to fully integrate into Israeli society.”

Brian Eglash, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer for the Jewish Federation

The grant also enabled over 200 Israelis of Ethiopian origin, including students from Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region of Karmiel and Misgav, to participate in the School Performance and Community Empowerment (SPACE) program. Recent studies showed that the SPACE program significantly increased the educational achievements of participating children—so much so that participating children achieve higher scores on their matriculation exams than the national average. High matriculation exam scores are crucial for admission to leading universities in Israel.

At the June 19 summit in Jerusalem, the ENP honored some program participants who submitted projects on the themes of Excellence, Advocacy, Cultural Integration, Aspirations and Legacy. Several of the participating students initiated meetings with local police officers in an effort to build trust and to reduce antagonism on both sides; this took place several months before the most recent police shooting.

The grant also established the “Bridges” program, a national extracurricular English immersion program taking place in nine different cities throughout Israel, including in Pittsburgh's sister city, Karmiel. The “Bridges” program includes a “Bridges to Pittsburgh” component that will bring two participating Ethiopian-Israeli teens to the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh’s Emma Kaufmann Camp (EKC) as campers for three weeks.

“We are thrilled to welcome these Israeli campers to EKC. Many of their Pittsburgh peers at camp have very little knowledge of the story of Ethiopian Jewry and the tremendous sacrifices they made in order to reach Israel. This amazing gift will help the Ethiopian Israeli teens to improve their English, which is crucial to their future success; at the same time, it will help to strengthen connections between Jewish teens from Pittsburgh and Israel.”

Kim Salzman, Director of Israel and Overseas Programs for the Jewish Federation

The grant also established a permanent endowment that offers medical scholarships to Ethiopian-Israelis, at the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation. Israelis of Ethiopian descent are under-represented in the medical field in Israel. This year, the endowment helped to support two medical students and one dental student.

“We are eternally grateful to this family for investing in the Ethiopian community in Israel and have no doubt their generosity will have a profound impact and leave a legacy for years to come,” said Roni Akele, Director of the ENP.

The Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh has had a long-time relationship with the ENP and played a role in the planning of its inception. In 1999, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh made the first and largest seed funding grant of any Jewish Federation towards the establishment of the ENP initiative.

"Our hope is the other Federations, Foundations and philanthropists as well as the Israeli government, will invest more in this vital endeavor because we truly need to finish the job. Recent events in Israel only make the need to invest in this community all the more apparent," said Eglash.

ENP is a partnership between the Jewish Federations of North America, the Israeli government, representatives of Ethiopian Jewish community organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Keren Hayesod-UIA.

Jewish Federation staff pose with Ethiopian-Israeli youth at a conference in Israel
Jewish Federation staff and Israelis of Ethiopian descent meet at conference in Israel


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