Showing Students a Different Face of Israel | The Jewish AgencyShowing Students a Different Face of Israel
Yonatan with students

Showing Students a Different Face of Israel

Showing Students a Different Face of Israel

As an Ethiopian-Israeli serving as a Campus Israel Fellow at Stanford, Yonatan is educating students about the diversity of Israel and creating a safe environment for students of all backgrounds.

Showing Students a Different Face of Israel

As an Ethiopian-Israeli serving as a Campus Israel Fellow at Stanford, Yonatan is educating students about the diversity of Israel and creating a safe environment for students of all backgrounds.

When Yonatan was six, his family moved from Ethiopia to Israel, settling in Lod, a city southeast of Tel Aviv. Growing up Orthodox in Israel, and hearing stories from his parents and grandparents about their experiences being Jewish in Ethiopia, Yonatan came to understand what a privilege it is to be Jewish in Israel.

“I got to grow up surrounded by Jews and in a place where it wasn’t hard to embrace my Jewishness which really shaped my ideas about Judaism,” reflected Yonatan. “But when you go abroad, it makes you realize how much you take for granted. Even being black and living in Israel where you’re the minority, you’ve still got it good.”

After finishing his time as a Criminal investigator in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Military Police and earning a BA in Communications from Reichman University (formerly IDC Herzliya), Yonatan felt strongly about being an Israeli emissary to communities outside of Israel. He was engaged in Shlichut (emissary service) through different organizations, coming to the U.S. and Mexico to talk about being Ethiopian-Israeli and being a member of the LGBT community. Then he was offered the opportunity to become a Jewish Agency Campus Israel Fellow.

Israel Fellows are Israeli young adults who are post-IDF and university who are brought to North American college campuses every year by The Jewish Agency, in partnership with Hillel. These Fellows help substitute education for ignorance when it comes to student opinions about Israel, creating safe spaces for tolerance and diversity, and give students a chance to develop lasting connections with an Israeli. They also help support student efforts to counter antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus.

“I wanted to work with young Jews people and educating students about Israel and letting them get to know me is very special. I’m able to answer the tough questions, expose students to Israeli culture and tell the story of Israel,” shared Yonatan, now 29, who is entering his second year as an Israel Fellow at Stanford University in California. “And the students are really the best part of the job. Knowing I’m making an impact and getting to be there for them, guiding them and building relationships with them is amazing.”

Yonatan speaking at the Sigd event he organized on campus

Yonatan speaking at the Sigd event |
Image provided by Yonatan

During his first year as a Fellow, Yonatan organized all sorts of activities. He showed movies about Israel, cooked Yemenite food, threw a big event for the Sigd holiday where he shared his family’s history and a video of his family in Ethiopia from before they made Aliyah and more.

“Besides educating students about Ethiopia Aliyah operations and teaching them about Sigd, what’s been really meaningful is seeing how my presence here has created a safe environment for students who might otherwise be marginalized or feel they can’t be open about their identities,” Yonatan shared. “My students learn about gay rights in Israel from me and they ask me questions they can’t ask Americans, whether it’s about racism or Jewish LGBT issues. They feel really comfortable talking to me about anything.”

As a new school year begins, Yonatan is excited to continue serving as an Israel Fellow, making connections and being a helpful resource to Jewish students on campus.

“While there have been Israel Fellows at Stanford before me, I have a distinct background and unique experiences which are letting students see a different face of Israel and showing them how diverse Israel is,” explained Yonatan. “I’m creating a bridge between American Jews and Israel, and with every student I encounter, I am, to some degree, changing their perspectives about Israel.”

 

Learn more about Campus Israel Fellows