Feature Stories

Ethiopian-Israeli Empowers Working Women

Born in a small Jewish village in northern Ethiopia, Yafit is now the coordinator of JDC’s Career Advancement Program in southern Israel — but her road to success was not easy.
Born in a small Jewish village in northern Ethiopia, Yafit is now the coordinator of JDC’s Career Advancement Program in southern Israel — but her road to success was not easy.

When Yafit was 7 years old, her small Jewish village in northern Ethiopia was struck by severe famine and her parents began the difficult journey of making their way to Israel.

For a month and a half, the young girl climbed over mountains and crept alongside rivers, sleeping during the day and walking at night to avoid bandits and suspicious authorities.

Yafit is now the coordinator of JDC’s Career Advancement Program for Israel’s Southern region, but her road to success was not an easy one. The Career Advancement Program is a program coordinated by TEVET, JDC’s comprehensive employment initiative forged in partnership with the Israeli government.

Despite their precautions, Yafit’s group was captured and she was jailed for three months. Though these journeyers were eventually freed, they continued to fall prey to robbers, many of whom were tipped off by the very guides supposedly leading Yafit’s family to safety in Sudan.

When they finally reached Sudan, Yafit and her family slept in a tent city, working tirelessly to protect themselves from theft, the blistering sun, and pernicious diseases like malaria and dysentery. Yafit became too weak to travel further; her parents left her and her sister in the Sudanese village of Gedaref until their strength returned.

One night, Yafit and her sister were told to gather their things and board trucks in the darkness. They drove across the silent night to an airfield where planes would take them to Israel and reunite them with their parents in Ashkelon.

Yafit learned Hebrew, acclimated to her new homeland, and went on to receive a degree in education from the David Yellin Teachers’ College in Jerusalem. After marrying, she moved to Ashdod with her husband and began working for the Ministry of Education, teaching Hebrew to new immigrants from Russia.

Her work caught the attention of JDC, who soon invited her to run workshops for the Eshet Chayil (“Woman of Valor”) program, which helps women from disadvantaged backgrounds find their footing in the Israeli job market. She soon became its regional coordinator.

“A lot of my work is helping women find their own strength,” Yafit says. “There is a lot of creativity involved. I help these women find solutions to perceived obstacles that prevent them from advancing.”

Her current position as head of the Southern region’s Career Advancement Program entails overseeing these women’s next steps after Eshet Chayil. Yafit now works with dozens of women already in the workforce who are ready to move forward with their careers; her clients include groups of Ethiopian-Israelis from Gedera, Rishon LeTzion, Beit Shemesh, and Ashkelon; Kavkazi-Israeli women from Sderot; and financially disadvantaged Israelis from Netivot.

Yafit works with the women individually to assess their potential and determine future goals — whether in the form of increased responsibility at their current jobs or continued education like advanced training or academic degrees.

“Some women worry about childcare, and some already have many personal and communal responsibilities. They take care of everyone else and have no time to take care of themselves,” she says. “My work is to help show them that by improving their careers, they are in fact strengthening their families and communities.”

It’s a lesson Yafit says she’s lucky to have learned herself.

“I myself am a mother of three, and I try to show these women — all of whom are very talented — that one passion need not come at the expense of the other,” she says. “You can integrate work and family.”

This program is generously supported by the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation.

Tags for this story: Israeli Immigrants, Women

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