By: Chris Chambers

At the start of this week, an ICEJ team visited the village of Ibim, near Sderot in southern Israel, which was founded in 1953 as a collective farm but today serves as a student village for Ethiopian and Russian immigrant families with children studying at the nearby Sapir Academic College.

We were there to witness the pre-graduation ceremony of 22 Ethiopian immigrants, most in their early 20s, who were just one test away from completing a nine-month education program sponsored by the ICEJ which will give them the equivalent of a high school diploma.

The students were first addressed by Eldad Shauvat, director of the absorption center, who explained that through this ‘Israel Academy’ they were being given a dream start to integrating into Israeli society. He also thanked them for having the heart to study and pursue success in their new country.

Yudit, representing the Ministry of Education, had similar words of encouragement while also urging them to keep their own unique culture alive in Israel. She also thanked the Jewish Agency, ICEJ donors, the teaching staff, and others who had a hand in making this program possible.

“This is a pilot program and now we hope to be able to help many more who will come”, said Yudit.

Nicole Yoder, the ICEJ’s Vice President for Aid and Aliyah, also had the chance to address the graduating students.

“As did your forefathers, you will need to overcome many challenges (“giants”) as you settle here in the Land. However, with faith and perseverance you will overcome and are already overcoming by successfully completing this study course. We at the ICEJ and our many Christian friends around the world are happy to offer you this open door, and we wish you well as you find employment, build homes, and begin life here.”

“In past years, 80% of Ethiopian immigrants arriving in Israel were largely illiterate”, added Danielle Mor of the Jewish Agency. “Today, some 60% of Ethiopian immigrants arrive with an average of five years of education and about 15% come with 12 years, and this is what makes this program radically different.”

Launched in December 2021, the new program has given the students a high school standard of education in only nine months, with the curriculum including mathematics, computers, civics and extra Hebrew lessons. Their diploma will help them pursue other opportunities, such as vocational training or further academic studies.

The course is open to Ethiopian newcomers aged 18 to 35 who arrived with 8-to-11 years of education. However, most immigrant families opt to begin working immediately to save for the day when they move out of the absorption centers. Fortunately, the Israeli government offers unique subsidies to the Ethiopian community to help them buy homes, but most men seek to work anyway to raise more funds for the down payment. Therefore, it was a sacrifice for these students to forgo for now the benefits of a paying job, but it will pay off down the road in better job opportunities after their required army service.

“It was a tough start, and I am very happy it is done”, said Mekonan, a young man of 20 with drive. “I hope to become a computer technician and work in hi-tech.”

Tekikil Tzega, a 20-year-old who recently arrived with her brother, shyly smiled when sharing about her aspiration of becoming a medical doctor so she can help people.

Adesa Daraso, also 20 and living in Ibim, spoke with beautiful Hebrew on behalf of her fellow Ethiopian students. Admitting that learning Hebrew was tough at first, she added that she loves to learn and hopes to become a nurse once her IDF service is over. She arrived in Israel with 10 years of schooling and believes this program will give her better prospects than her older sister, who had only six years of schooling and currently works in a factory.

Looking ahead, there is a lot of optimism among these young Ethiopian Jews. Our support for this program shows how the generosity of Christians is providing hope and practical support for these young men and women beginning a new life in Israel. You, too, can help make a real difference by assisting the next group of arrivals!

Donate today to our Aliyah and Integration efforts at:  give.icej.org/aliyah