Celebrating Achievement and Collaboration at ENP

SPACE student and I working on homework (Photo Courtesy Abigail Leibowitz)

December was not only my last month studying at Hebrew University (and a very hectic one filled with finals) but also my last week interning at the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). Throughout the past two months I had the privilege of learning extensively about Ethiopian Jewry, and about non-profit work in Israel. My main projects as an intern were creating a newspaper template for the students of their SPACE (School Performance and Community Empowerment) program and interviewing the beneficiaries of their adult program.

In order to coordinate with the students and teachers for the newspaper, I visited the Amit Mekif Yud school in Ashdod. I spoke to the SPACE teachers about their goals for the kids, and witnessed the dedicated work ethic of the 7th and 8th graders.

SPACE student and I working on homework (Photo Courtesy Abigail Leibowitz)

One SPACE teacher explained to me that the SPACE program is built in such a way that students do not feel they are receiving charity, but rather they are receiving extra help in school that other students get at home. Indeed, speaking to students I learned that a significant portion of them only speak Amharic at home, inherently creating a barrier that does not exist for other students in school. Sitting with one student and helping him briefly with his algebra work, I felt a positive shock that I still remember how to do fractions! I was reminded of my own school days when homework was made more enjoyable in groups of friends working together.

Additionally, I had the opportunity to lead an activity at a ceremony granting merit awards to the students. Realizing this is a program celebrating achievement in high school, I thought of no better activity than to give them a glimpse of my own high school experience, just as I was getting a peek at theirs. Through a game in which I displayed pictures and the students had to guess whether they were real- life or from a show/movie, I elaborated on various aspects of US high school. Intrigued by my dancing in high school, one group of students even asked me to dance for them. Leading this activity brought moments of mutual fondness- I was celebrating their achievements and they were fond of my assistance in the ceremony and my experiences in high school.

Yisrael Yitzhak, the program MC, and I (Photo Courtesy Abigail Leibowitz)

A week before, ENP held a graduation ceremony for its Leadership and Community Empowerment Program (its adult program). This program prepares Ethiopian-Israeli members to become leaders, and works to increase the involvement of Ethiopian-Israelis in their own processes of absorption.

One example of people making an impact through grassroots leadership was Yisrael Yizhak, whom I interviewed for several hours. Currently a head nurse in Petach Tikvah, Yisrael came to Israel at age 25, walking dozens of miles with no food, enduring hunger, and not knowing where he was going. With his “blood, heart, and soul in Jerusalem,” however, he persevered and made it to the “Eretz zavat chalav u’dvash,” or land of milk and honey, as Israel is described in Deuteronomy 31:20. Upon arrival, he was sent to Tiberias for Mechina, in which he studied with students from South Africa but after 10 months of intense dedication succeeded in testing out of Mechina and putting himself through nursing school, as he was a nurse previously in Ethiopia. Volunteering many years in the health field, he jumped at the opportunity to participate in ENP’s leadership program, which he explained “contributes to anyone, no matter what stage of life they’re in.” He emphasized that his community has diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic illness at high rates, and so he wants to use what he learned to take action on these matters and to work with kids in schools and with regional governments. As an Ethiopian- Israeli, a nurse, and a community leader, he–among others like him–holds a unique perspective that outsiders inevitably lack: They can recognize their community’s most urgent needs and have a passion to take action.

Interning at ENP was a great experience as it exposed me to a facet of Israeli society I had known little about yet grew to admire.

About the Author
Abby is a student and volunteer on the Nativ College Leadership Program. Originally from Israel, she moved to Silver Spring, MD as a baby and grew up there with her parents and twin brother. Inspired by Jewish concepts of Tikkun Olam and the Jewish refugee narrative, she hopes to go to law school and work in human rights law. Back in the US, she led a student advocacy group called F.A.I.R- Fans of Asylum and Immigration Reform, taught at Temple Emanuel Religious School, and was a teacher’s assistant at CityDance School and Conservatory. During her free time Abby loves to take dance classes, play backgammon (and win of course), and read!
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