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May 14, 2012 2:33 pm

Farmers to Scholars – The Journey of Two Ethiopian Youth

avatar by Assaf Yair / Tazpit News Agency

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An Ethiopian-Israeli soldier kisses the Western Wall after his swearing in ceremony of the Givati Brigade. Photo: wiki commons.

Sitting with these two youths in Jerusalem, it is hard to believe their story is true. The two brothers, Adiso and Yonatan Jambar, aged eighteen and sixteen, emigrated from the village of Achfar in Ethiopia five years ago.

A family of eight children, they were the only Jews in the village. Their father made a living as a farmer and as an agricultural tools merchant. Yonatan can’t forget the Anti-Semitic attacks they suffered. The family was aware of their Judaism, but did not really lead a Jewish life. Their uncle was a well established land dealer. At some point he ran into difficulties, his house was burned and he was forced to leave the village. The rest of the family was forced to follow suit, selling their possessions at a very low price. They had to walk to the city of Gondar, seven hours away. Here, they attended a Jewish school, still suffering from various Anti-Semitic attacks. Yonatan remembers one incident when he was playing soccer with other boys, and they began to ridicule him for being a Jew. On the way back from school, they were attacked. The family lived in Gondar for five years, and them decided to make Aliya, to come to Israel. The family’s grandfather had already moved to Israel, and they joined him in 2007. Yonatan tells of a certain sense of shock when first arriving in Israel, but the family quickly adjusted to their new lives.

They first stayed at an absorption center, later moving to Kiryat Yam in Northern Israel. After only half a year, they had a good command of the Hebrew language. The two brothers began to study at a Yeshiva-high school. “After learning Hebrew, we joined the regular class and there we found friends, good friends.” Yonatan began at a fifth grade level, but rapidly progressed and was moved into the seventh grade. While he was in the seventh grade, their family became closer to the Jewish tradition and began to lead a religious life. In Israel, they felt more secure about their Judaism and their bond to Jewish values and heritage became more prominent in their life. After two years in the Haifa area, the family decided to move to Ma’aleh Adumim, near Jerusalem.

The parents did not have an easy time finding a source of income, having to work at difficult jobs; they constantly had their children’s education in mind. Today, the boys study at Ma’aleh Adumim Yeshiva-high School, Adiso in the twelfth grade and Yonatan in the tenth. They spend much of their time studying for the matriculation exams. Both have achieved impressive results, an outcome of difficult and prolonged efforts on their part, as well as special attention given by the school staff. Their day is long and crammed, starting at eight in the morning, and ending at six or seven o’clock at night. Their program is very intensive, including religious studies, math, English, physics, biology, technology and electronics, history. One of their teachers, Itamar Golan, said, “Today, they are first rate students in the Yeshiva. Studies at the Yeshiva are intensive and grueling. With the close accompaniment of the staff, they are both very successful, despite all the obstacles they have encountered.”

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Their parents constantly encourage them, pushing them to fulfill their potential. They want Yonatan to become a doctor. He excels in biology, and hopes to become a vet. His grades are high, but he would rather not talk about himself. He believes one should be judged by their values, identity and personality; not his grades.

Adiso, a top notch student as well, believes in influencing and contributing through social activities. He joined the Ariel youth group a short time after joining the Yeshiva. He became a leader in the group, and his dream is to influence Israeli society, generating a positive change. Yonatan joined the youth group Adiso, becoming a youth leader as well. They are both involved in youth activities, educating the members of their group on the values of mutual accountability. They believe they have the power to minimize and even eliminate violence among youth. Through activities and games, they teach proper methods of communication between the youth, showing that violence is not necessary.

The brothers believe more can be done to further promote and assist the Ethiopian community in Israel. Today, the younger generation of Ethiopian immigrants serves as a guide to the older generation, helping them to integrate. Yonatan and Adiso have encountered some prejudice, but believe that they should put these incidents behind them, looking to the future.

Yonatan has fond memories from Achfar, but believes his life is better today, in Israel. His way of life and religious values are important to him, as well as his sense of belonging to the Jewish Nation, which he feels in Israel, and the security the Ethiopian immigrants feel. “In Israel, when I compare my life to the one I had in Ethiopia – it is better here. Our basic needs are the sense of security and the feeling of a belonging to an entity we believe in, leading the life the way we want. We find these basic needs met in Israel.”

Both brothers believe it’s their duty to give their utmost to the country. They want to serve in combat units in the IDF, with the belief that the state gives to the citizen, and the citizen should give back to the state and society in return. Their older brother is already serving as a combat soldier.

Today, Yonatan and Adiso stand at the forefront of academic excellence and social leadership, striving to influence and make a difference, instilling values and delineating the path for the youth they lead. They have come a long way from their village in Ethiopia, a distance which is good for them as well as Israeli society. They are an Israeli-Zionist success story.

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  • Abebe

    It is nice and heart warming to see the opportunities these youths are having in Israel. They probably wouldn’t have that if raised in Ethiopia in their village, although I have seen less gifted than these boys tremendously succeed in Ethiopia too.
    What really bothers me is the way Ethiopia nad Ethiopians are described in this article. We are described as antisemitic country, which is far from reality. Ethiopia is the least antisemitic country in the world, the proof is that Ethiopian jews lived in Ethiopia for centuries without any type of discrimination when the whole world from Spain to Germany to Russia were presecuting them. Even Israel itself, just read Israel newspapers to see how Ethiopian jews are treated. They were poor, that is certain like any Ethiopian but I knew some reach Ethiopian jews like any Ethiopian (I went to school with some of them).
    Ethiopia is a multicultural, multireligious country were kids from different ethnic group and different religion play together without any problem. “Yonatan remembers one incident when he was playing soccer with other boys, and they began to ridicule him for being a Jew” This is difficult to believe in Ethiopia, no one will discriminate you in that way. Ethiopians are poor but this contradicts even the essence of ethiopian culture.

    • Bekele S Asfaw

      I agree with Abebe! I attended middle school with Ethiopian Jewish boys, and can’t remember any form of discrimination towards them. My maternal grandfather
      was a farmer and religious leader in Gondar where I
      often visited. There, I played with Jewish boys.

      My ancestors passed on to me oral accounts of how the Ethiopian Jews contributed to our written history as
      well as to our Coptic Christian history.

      As an adult, I visit Jewish friends in Isreal and
      continue to interact with Ethiopian Jews.

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