The Challenge for Ethiopian Gen-Xers

Gary Rosenblatt writing in The Jewish Week:

Finding Jobs, And Hope, For Ethiopian Gen-Xers

The saga of the Ethiopian aliyah is both heroic and troubling. It includes the dramatic rescue of thousands of people virtually overnight as part of Operation Solomon in 1991 – truly remarkable. But it also includes the disturbing statistics since then that indicate a widening social, economic and educational gap between Ethiopians and other Israelis.

Until she was in her early 30s, Yifat Ovadia, an Ashkenazi native of Beersheba, veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and university graduate, had never met an Ethiopian Jew.  But three and a half years ago, she gave up her fast-track career as a partner in a Tel Aviv law firm to launch and co-direct a not-for-profit organization that trains, mentors and finds high-level jobs for hundreds of university-educated Ethiopian immigrants – young people who have faced discrimination in seeking employment commensurate with their level of education.

… The majority of Ethiopian immigrants lives in poverty and does poorly in school; they have high dropout rates and alarming numbers in terms of crime and drug use.

“Israelis are not racist, but they are prejudiced,” says Ovadia, suggesting that since “we don’t see and meet them” on a regular basis  – the Ethiopians often live in the poorest neighborhoods – most Israelis tend to believe negative stereotypes about them, such as they do not make for good employees or colleagues.
Ovadia set out to change the status quo, one person at a time, blending her grand vision of an Israeli society of equals with a more pragmatic approach that aims to train and place 1,000 Ethiopian immigrants in professional jobs.

… Key funding comes from UJA-Federation of New York and from Natan, a New York-based foundation that seeks to inspire young people to support innovative Jewish projects.