Montreal philanthropists’ to support new movement across North America to take action in supporting Ethiopian–Israeli students at Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University
Twice over the past thirty-seven years, the world has witnessed the miracle of the homecoming of the Jewish people from Ethiopia. This community, which now numbers over 150,000, brought with it its own customs, traditions, and distinct way of life – and has thus enriched the Jewish experience of the entire nation. While the story of their immigration to Israel is one of great bravery and perseverance, their integration into Israeli society has fraught with unique challenges. Despite the increase in success stories, today, approximately half of all Ethiopian-Israelis live under the poverty line – a situation resulting from the diverse social, cultural, language and economic barriers they face.
On the educational front, Ethiopian students still represent less then 2% of students in Israel, a relatively low rate compared with their rate in the general population in the relevant ages. While statistics show an upward trend in the number of students of Ethiopian origin obtaining a post-secondary education in Israel, they typically attend smaller, more local schools and colleges, and are underrepresented in major universities.
If Israel is to successfully integrate its Ethiopian community into mainstream society, it is crucial that greater numbers of Ethiopian students are given the chance to pursue a higher education.
It is against this backdrop, that Montreal philanthropist and first Tel Aviv University Governor of Ethiopian decent, Yaffa Tegegne, and her husband Benjamin Ahdoot, believe that the most effective way to do so is by increasing the number of scholarships available, and by providing holistic support to students from the Ethiopian community, from the admissions stage and throughout their studies.
Long concerned by the plight of Ethiopian Israelis and the hardship they endure, and following the partnership between The Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation (MRGFF) and Israel’s two top universities – Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University – to take concrete action to redress this issue, Yaffa and Ben recently made a generous gift [SJF1] to support the MRGFF in their mission and Ethiopian students at TAU.
The MRGFF’s vision of inspiring others to “follow them in their shoes” in this so important and much needed cause, will support students pursuing higher studies, while highlighting the importance of such studies among this demographic and promoting community engagement. The Foundation believes that academic achievement at a high level is important in promoting the achievements of the Ethiopian community and changing the lens through which racialized minorities are viewed in Israel.
The initiative marks a new era of collaboration between universities in Israel, with TAU and HU joining forces to strengthen Israel’s Ethiopian Jewish community and its culture. Both institutions share the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation’s commitment to encouraging Ethiopian Israeli students to pursue graduate studies and to take on leadership roles in social impact programs and academia.
As most Ethiopian Israeli students represent the first generation in their families to pursue higher education and usually face economic hardship, financial assistance is key to their success, even at the graduate level. Scholarships encourage students to continue toward master’s and doctoral studies, lead to research opportunities, both in Israel and abroad, and, eventually, to teaching and tenure track positions.
In September 2020, at the height of a worldwide pandemic, Tel Aviv University opened a globally trailblazing study offering in Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish Studies: The Orit Guardians Master’s Track. The MA is dedicated to the academic study of the sacred texts of Beta Israel, mainly the Orit, the Torah of Beta Israel, which was written in the ancient language of Ge’ez. Its launch was made possible by the generosity of several individuals and foundations, among them the Goodman Family Foundation
The Orit Guardians MA is the pilot for a broader and more ambitious initiative, The Rosalind and Morris Goodman Fellowship Program in Ethiopian Jewish Studies. The Program will supplement the MA with additional components including educational outreach programs within Israel, international conferences, cutting-edge research, and doctoral and post-doctoral positions.
Education is a vital step toward upward social mobility and quality employment. Ensuring that more Ethiopian Israelis have access to university studies and graduate programs can help to enhance their standing in society overall and create a new generation of leadership.
These two exceptional families, along others across Canada and the US, see the growing support of Ethiopian – Israelis as a positive and important step in breaking down barriers, enacting social change and seeing real impact and leadership. Now, the Goodman Foundation has taken this maxim further, currently organizing a walking mission to Ethiopia for the winter of 2023.
“To walk in someone’s shoes is to feel empathy,” says Jonathan Goodman, “who is leading the initiative.“
Yaffa Tegegne, who is part of the organizing executive committee says, “This is a tremendous opportunity to build a new generation of Ethiopian-Israeli leadership that can carry and sustain the community going forward.”
Through their generous support of this initiative, the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Family Foundation is sending a strong message to Israel and world Jewry: That the Ethiopian Jewish community is a vital, inseparable part of Israel that should enjoy a status equal to that of other communities, both within and outside of the universities.
It is the family’s fervent wish that their initiative will continue to have a snowball effect and attract more philanthropists and community leaders to support such initiatives aimed at positively influencing the status and perception of Ethiopian Jews in Israel and beyond.
Combating negative biases toward the community is an overarching goal, in which education can play a critical role. In the future, the Foundation also hopes to support additional programs at both universities to raise awareness of the rich of culture and history of Ethiopian Jewry.