• The campus of the Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. The prestigious institution is a world leader in technological and scientific development.

    Technion | Israel Institute of Technology [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Aliyah

From Ethiopia to the Technion Institute

Less than a year after immigrating to Israel from Ethiopia, Fentanesh Gasasa, 17, was accepted into the Future Leaders program at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. It’s not the first time she has defied the odds. Since losing her mother at age 6, she has helped raise her younger sister. The staff at The Jewish Agency’s Hanita absorption center and Segula ulpan quickly un-derstood that Fentanesh was poised for a rapid ascension. “She came with 10 female students from Ethiopia and immediately took her place as their spokesperson,” says Ruchama Hazut, the ulpan’s director. Fentanesh’s unfolding story is part of the illustrious history of Ethiopian Aliyah.

Less than a year after immigrating to Israel from Ethiopia, 17-year-old Fentanesh Gasasa has been accepted into the Future Leaders program at the prestigious Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.

It’s not the first time Fentanesh has defied the odds. After losing her mother at age 6, she helped raise her younger sister in Ethiopia.

The staff at The Jewish Agency’s Hanita absorption center and Segula ulpan (intensive Hebrew language academy) in Haifa quickly understood that Fentanesh was poised for a rapid ascension in Israeli society.

“On the first day of her arrival, we understood that she was very smart and was the leader of the Amharic-speaking group,” says Ruchama Hazut, director of the Segula ulpan, referring to Ethiopia’s official language. “She came with 10 female students from Ethiopia and immediately took her place as their spokesperson. Since she spoke English, she became the point of contact between the girls and our staff, translating what the ulpan’s team wanted to communicate.”

Hanita is one of The Jewish Agency’s 10 absorption centers for Ethiopians, which provide subsidized housing dedicated to the specific cultural needs of Ethiopian olim (immigrants to Israel). Additionally, four other Jewish Agency absorption centers for olim from around the world include immigrants from Ethiopia.

Ruchama, who lives near Hanita in Haifa’s Neve Shaanan neighborhood, noticed that Fentanesh would also display leadership capabilities beyond her years by assisting adults in the absorption center. It’s only fitting, then, that she’ll be continuing her growth as a leader through the Technion’s Future Leaders track. In the program, youths take part in advanced education in science and mathematics, and they ultimately receive priority treatment in the admissions process if they apply to the Technion for college.

“You have to see Fentanesh to understand what a special girl she is,” says Lilach, the absorption coordinator at the Segula ulpan. “Even the look on her face conveys her tenderness, sensitivity, and intelligence.”

Since the early 1950s, The Jewish Agency has assisted more than 90,000 Ethiopians with their immigration to Israel.

Ethiopian Jews were permitted to immigrate to Israel until 1977, when the African country’s Marxist dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, came to power. During the ensuing decade, Ethiopian Aliyah was clandestine and managed by the Israeli government along with The Jewish Agency. The IDF and Mossad began bringing Ethiopian Jews to safety in Israel, and The Jewish Agency welcomed and absorbed the refugees, housing them in youth villages and special sites established for this purpose. The two most famous airlifts from Ethiopia to Israel were Operation Moses in 1984-1985, aiding the arrival of 6,364 olim, and Operation Solomon in 1991, bringing 14,000 immigrants.

Last October, 63 Jews from Ethiopia arrived in Israel as part of The Jewish Agency’s current effort to reunite the families of Ethiopian olim in the Jewish State — both facilitating their transportation to the country and helping them transition to life in their new home. This effort is expected to bring some 9,000 family members of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel by 2020.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2018 announced that the government would bring 1,000 of the remaining 8,000 members of Ethiopia's Falash Mura Jewish community to Israel, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said, “This decision moves in the right direction, but it is necessary to bring the remaining people waiting for Aliyah from Ethiopia as soon as possible.” 

On Febryary 4, 2019, the first 83 of these 1,000 olim arrived in Israel

‘I live for my sister’

Fentanesh is confident she’ll succeed in the Technion’s Future Leaders program, but she acknowledges the difficulties of life as an immigrant — including her continued responsibility to essentially be the “mother” of her younger sister.

“I live for my sister,” says Fentanesh. “I always do everything I can to encourage her to succeed, especially because she’s grown up without a mother since she was 3 years old. Neither of us were old enough to know our mother before she passed away.”

“My life changed completely from the moment I landed in Israel, and I’m happy that I’m here,” she continues. “Life isn’t easy. It’s challenging to take care of my sister and be a student at the same time. But I know that with the assistance of The Jewish Agency and the ulpan, I have the support I need to be successful.”

Victoria Samoilov, director of Hanita, calls Fentanesh “an example for the rest of the absorption center.”

“We’re very proud of her,” says Victoria, “and we’ll be happy to keep supporting and assisting her in any way that’s needed to ensure her continued success.”

Learn more about Ethiopian Aliyah >

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This article was originally written by Nathan Roi for The Jewish Agency for Israel

06 Feb 2019 / 1 Adar 5779 0
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