Feature Stories

Through the Power of Music, One Father Passes On Vibrant Culture

For Getahun Ayele, an Ethiopian-Israeli and father of two young girls, music is more than just a hobby — it’s a critical link to his daughters, his heritage, and the country he left 22 years ago.

Getahun, a resident of the coastal city of Netanya, located about a half-hour north of Tel Aviv, has used the skills he learned from JDC’s Parents and Children Together (PACT) initiative to bring together a group of Ethiopian-Israeli mothers and fathers.

The group now uses traditional Ethiopian folk songs to connect their children to their community’s rich culture.

“When I walk around the neighborhood and hear little Israeli kindergarten children singing Ethiopian lullabies, I know that we have succeeded in sharing a piece of our cultural heritage with our own children and with the broader community,” Getahun said.

Getahun, visually impaired from childhood and educated at The Jewish Institute for the Blind, developed his musical talents at a young age, learning to play the keyboard and traditional Ethiopian instruments.

Today, he coordinates two Ethiopian choral groups — one for mothers who sing traditional lullabies and children’s songs, and more recently, the Tezeta men’s choral group, which sings traditional Ethiopian farming songs.

Both groups have released CDs, and over the years, have performed at community and city ceremonies and festivals.

Getahun said older Ethiopian-Israeli children in the Netanya community have told him they’re proud to see their fathers taking a leading role in preserving their unique heritage.

The older Ethiopian-Israeli children very much enjoy the performances and are proud to see fathers from within the community on stage.

“It makes them feel good about their parents and proud of their culture,” Getahun said.

Raising children in Israel is different in many ways from Getahun’s early years in Ethiopia, he said, which makes the assistance of JDC’s PACT liaison a critical resource for his family.

When the daycare staff first approached Getahun to problem-solve some language issues for his then two-year-old daughter, he was wary; he didn’t want to label his daughter in any way and was sure she’d be OK.

But when her preschool teacher also raised the same concerns, JDC’s PACT liaison stepped in, assuring the worried father that the teachers had his daughter’s best interests in mind. She went on to explain how speech therapy would help his daughter to develop her language skills.

PACT enables more than 10,000 Ethiopian-Israeli youngsters and their families — perhaps the most disadvantaged group in Israel — to benefit from enhanced educational and healthcare opportunities.

“PACT works in a variety of ways to bring children and parents together — through an investment in early childhood and also in empowering parents and members of each PACT community,” said Becky Sereche, the program’s national director.

Now, Getahun accompanies his daughter to her weekly speech therapy sessions at the Neot Shaked Early Childhood Center, and he is learning how to practice with her at home, too.

“After only a few weeks, the kindergarten teacher told me that she already sees improvement in my daughter’s speech,” he said. “It made me so happy and I am grateful that I can get this help for her now.”

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