Feature Story: Government and Organizations Combine to Attack Problems of Poverty in Ethiopian Community

GADERA, ISRAEL, March 28, 6:30 p.m. – When Yossi fell into serious trouble for violent behavior at the age of 17, all the key people in his life were there for him.  His parents stood by him, despite the fact he already had a criminal record.  Even Liad, the director of the Youth Department at the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) activity center in Gadera, where Yossi had most recently acted up, didn’t give up on him. In fact, she intervened when police were ready to take Yossi away, instead keeping him close to the center. 

 The only one who didn’t want to help Yossi was Yossi.

“I was confused,” he recalled.  “I had lots of problems with the police, with authority.”

But with the help of his parents and Liad, Yossi started turning things around, and although he is not ready to go back to school, he is staying out of trouble, something his Ethiopian-born mother and father are happy about.               

“His parents accepted him and told him if you don’t go to school, just be a good person,” she said. “He not only found his place, he wants to guide kids in the right direction.” 

The ENP is a unique partnership between JFNA, the government of Israel, representatives of Ethiopian Jewish community organizations, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Keren Hayesod-UJA. The program is designed to unite those dedicated to advancing the Ethiopian-Israeli community in order to prevent the formation of a black underclass in Israel.  ENP focuses on empowerment, taking a holistic approach to filling unmet critical needs.

More than 70 percent of Ethiopians in Israel are still living below the poverty line. Teens ages 13 and 18 represent the largest demographic segment for unmet needs.  Their numbers total approximately 17,000 in 22 different cities. With Federation support, the ENP is reaching one out of every two teens. 

“We give them the tools and opportunities to help them fulfill their potential,” said Liad.  “We ask them, “What is your dream when you grow up,” said Liad. Because when you have a dream, you have a star in the sky guiding you.” 

Asked what his dream is, Yossi said with his big, infectious smile:  “I want to be a real estate shark!” 

The star finally seems to be forming now that Yossi wants to help himself.

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