We headed north to Karmiel with Grace Rodnitzki, Director of International Relations at the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). ENP unites global Jewry, the Government of Israel and the Ethiopian-Israeli community in its mission to advance the integration of Ethiopian-Israelis into Israeli society. The program provides social and educational opportunities to Ethiopian-Israeli youth ages 13-18 addressing their cultural, social and emotional challenges that constrain their advancement.

Our first stop was the home of Qes Efraim Zion-Lawi, a spiritual leader in the Ethiopian-Jewish Israeli community. There, we met his family and were treated to a traditional Ethiopian lunch. If you missed the opportunity to meet Qes Efraim when he was visiting our Federation community, I urge you to change your plans if you must to be available the next time he comes to Upper Fairfield County. What incredibly lovely people and the food was delicious! We then went to Qes Efraim’s mother’s home a few miles away and enjoyed buna, a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. What a great way to start the day!

From Karmiel, we headed back to Afula to visit the Federation-supported ENP SPACE program at the local high school. SPACE (School Performance and Community Empowerment) is a holistic program providing supplementary hours of educational support to improve a student’s achievements in core subjects, providing scholastic assistance to over 5,000 Ethiopian students in Israel. Unfortunately, not all students have access to the program, due to lack of funding. Many are on a wait-list — another lesson in the importance of our Federation’s support.

We then had an opportunity to sit in on a class. School administrators combined two classes for us so that we could see the progress of students who have been in attendance and those who are new to the program. It was interesting to see a lesson in English where teachers used American pop music to engage the students. The children would listen to part of a song and then were asked questions about what they thought the lyrics meant. This created many interesting responses and intense conversation to strengthen students’ command of the English language. We learned that Israeli students master a specific level in English in order to graduate high school, so the importance of this program is two-fold.

After the class was over, we met with several students to discuss their experience with the program. The kids meet twice a week after school and are also provided lunch. We learned that most of their parents came to Israel during Operation Moses or Operation Solomon. They are aware of the struggles their parents endured and understand that they must work hard for a successful and a prosperous life. One student told us that, because of this program, she improved her mathematics test score from 40% to 90%. Another told us that he tested and scored the highest level of English offered at the school. lt was evident, while speaking with the children, that SPACE not only advances their grades, but also increases their motivation to learn and improves their self-confidence. One of the best takeaways was to hear how being part of this program has made students role models for others by inspiring their friends and siblings to want to take part in the SPACE program too.