From Ethiopia to Israel: Completing a Circle 25 Years in the Making

Published: November 26th 2010
in News » Israel

Batya Chokol
Pic: Daniel Horowitz

Although they had finally made their dream a reality by arriving in Jerusalem; Batya’s family – like all the new Ethiopian olim – had many new challenges to overcome.


In Ethiopia, agricultural prowess was highly valued, and males were accorded patriarchal status. However, upon arrival in Israel, many men found that the tempo of life and measures of success were completely different; they could not find a satisfying way to contribute to society, let alone resume their role as the family’s breadwinner.


“For my parents, it was very difficult to arrive in such a modern, technological society,” she says. “For the kids it was much easier because we were so young and would learn what we needed in Israeli schools. But for our parents it was complete culture shock. In Ethiopia, my father would work his farm and take care of his family; in Israel, he had to go to work which was completely new to him. Because, by that time I had eight siblings – many mouths to feed – my mother, too, had to work. In Ethiopia, the father is almost a deity; judged by the wealth of his farm and was the family’s sole provider. But it’s not that way in Israel. Slowly the children began to take control of the family while the parents began to lose face and self respect.”


Two years after landing in Jerusalem, the Chokol family relocated to Bat Yam, situated about twenty minutes south of Tel Aviv. The city, in which UJA Federation of Greater Toronto – through philanthropic investments in educational programs for its elementary and high school students, and vocational and professional training for their parents -  promises to be a model of successful integration.


As a result of the model UJA Federation established in Bat Yam, it is now being replicated in 15 communities around Israel. This is part of UJA's strategy of empowering community leaders with innovative projects to achieve their goals and become the model for other communities.


To assist her father – and the other elders – in her new community, Batya used her agricultural experience at the Bat Yam Community Garden, created especially by UJA, in partnership with the Joint Distribution Committee, for the Ethiopian-Israel community. The schedule combines weekly gardening activities with bi-monthly social gatherings. The new olim quickly began to earn the love and respect of their children when they began bringing their produce home, as it was back in their native land.


“Working in this garden gives me a chance to give something back to my father; to restore his power and authority, and that of his peers. I feel that I am completing a circle,” smiles Batya. “UJA Federation is one of the organizations that helped many Ethiopians fulfill their dreams, and today they are completing that dream by helping us feel like we belong in Israeli society.”

Related articles: (Operation Moses, Ethiopian Jews)
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