On the treacherous trek to the land of her dreams, Miriam Yosef, 11, watched a young friend perish from malnutrition. “As children, we saw things we shouldn’t have seen,” says Miriam. She went on to feel things no woman should have to feel: She married a man who abused her. But Miriam survived and now she fights for others. The day a fellow participant in Shatil’s Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Program was murdered by her husband, Miriam and her friends banded together to put an end to such tragedies. With Shatil’s help, they founded Yachdav – for the Prevention of Violence in the Ethiopian Family. Today, Miriam is one of the Shatil-led Coalition’s most active members; she succeeded with them in raising community awareness and convincing the government to allocate resources toward solving the problem. Says Miriam: “Shatil gives us the knowledge and tools to influence the decision-makers and the belief in our own ability to create change.”
Strengthening Immigrant Activists
Fulfilling the ancient dream of ingathering the exiles, Israel has absorbed and continues to absorb tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews and some one million Jews from the Former Soviet Union (FSU.) While the country was riveted by the dramatic airlift of more than 30,000 Ethiopian Jews through Operations Moses and Solomon in the 1980’s and ’90’s, and by the mass immigration of Soviet Jews after the fall of the Iron Curtain, fascination and joy has turned to apathy, neglect and even racism. Today, Israel’s Ethiopian and Russian immigrants are still a population in transition. Many live in impoverished slums, where even menial jobs are scarce. A lack of educational opportunities has relegated many to jobs with little upward mobility. Compounded by racial discrimination and cultural obstacles, these problems have given rise to disproportionally high rates of juvenile crime, school drop out, domestic violence and unemployment. Over the past 20 years, Shatil’s Assistance to Organizations of Immigrants from the FSU and Assistance to Ethiopian Immigrants projects have helped both communities transform from passive recipients of aid into active participants in addressing the challenges their communities face.
Staffed by immigrant activists, Shatil has helped dozens of immigrant groups and countless community activists acquire the tools and skills they need to effect social change through:
Training: workshops and courses to learn about Israeli democracy, rights and services, and to acquire new skills
Leadership: courses to empower men, women and students toward activism and grassroots involvement
Organization building: strategic planning, personnel management and program development for national and local grassroots organizations
Coalition building: collaboration on issues affecting immigrants such as Jewish identity, assisting youth-at-risk and preventing domestic violence
Shatil’s Back from the Edge, a comprehensive intervention model to address the problems of immigrant youth from the FSU and Ethiopia, is resulting in better learning conditions, higher grades, increased motivation and lower drop out rates among immigrant youth. “A year ago, I got only failing grades and was thinking of dropping out of school,” says 17 year-old Oshrat. “Now, I only get high scores. It’s a miracle.”
Oshrat, whose family is from the Caucasus region of the Former Soviet Union, is one of several hundred high school students participating in Shatil’s Back from the Edge pilot program for strengthening immigrant youth-at-risk in six communities. “The project has changed my life,” says Oshrat. “Most importantly, the project teaches teachers to change their approach in order to help immigrants like me.” Back from the Edge works holistically: it strengthens and trains local immigrant organizations that implement the project in schools targeting pupils, teachers and parents; and works to effect policy change.
Twenty-three years after the dramatic Operation Moses brought the first mass aliyah of Ethiopian Jews home to Israel, the State’s 110,000 Ethiopians are a community in crisis. While some Ethiopian Jews have succeeded in integrating, for too many, the centuries-old dream of returning to Zion has turned into a nightmare of high juvenile crime and school drop out rates, rampant unemployment, racism and domestic violence.
Since 1990, Shatil has trained hundreds of Israelis of Ethiopian descent to assume leadership positions and take responsibility for their communities. Shatil focuses on women, students and Ethiopian grassroots groups, providing them with the tools needed to strengthen their communities from within through specially designed courses, consultation and coalition building.
Preventing Domestic Violence
Yachdav (Together) is a Shatil-initiated and guided coalition of Ethiopian women and men formed to address the crisis of domestic violence in the Ethiopian community. This group of 20 activists educates the community toward prevention, advocates for policy change in the government and Knesset and recruits high level partners in their work to combat this phenomenon. The Yachdav coalition succeeded in getting the government to allocate funds and establish programs to fight the phenomenon.
Ethiopian Jewish Spiritual Leaders (Kessim) Pray for Peace in the Family
At a national conference titled “No to Violence, Yes to Peace” organized by Yachdav, a group of kessim chanted the special prayer they had composed at the Coalition’s behest in Gez, the liturgical language of Ethiopian Jews. After Lemlem Tsahai became the 12th Ethiopian Israeli woman to be murdered by her husband, her friends in Shatil’s Ethiopian Women’s Empowerment Project decided they had no choice but to break the community taboo against discussing the issue and organize to stop the tragedies. This is a complex issue that we understand to be caused by the traumas of immigration from a traditional agrarian society to a complex modern one, the resultant role changes assumed women and men, men’s difficulties in supporting their families, their lost honor, etc. Three years later, they have succeeded in putting domestic violence prevention on the government’s and community agenda and the number of domestic violence cases has decreased significantly. To receive a copy of the prayer in Hebrew and Ge’ez, email Ayalah
Over one million strong, immigrants from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) should and can be a significant force in the pluralistic, democratic development of Israeli society. However, despite the skills, experience, talent and energy they brought with them to Israel, FSU immigrants have faced formidable challenges in acclimating to Israeli society. Chief among them are an education system ill-equipped to meet their needs, a job market that does not appreciate their skills and a dearth of affordable housing. In 1991, when immigrants from the FSU were just beginning their massive influx into Israel, Shatil launched its Initiative to Assist Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union to serve as an organizational support system. Through workshops, direct consultation and proactive outreach, Shatil’s assistance to organizations helps immigrant groups and countless community activists develop the tools they need to affect social change.
Russian Language blogging and social media course
A 2011 pilot Russian language bloggers course brought together 15 young adults from Israel’s Russian community to gain the tools to begin to influence the Russian language discourse in Israel. They learned and received hands-on experience in creating Russian and Hebrew-language blogs with the aim of beginning to open up Israel’s much-used Russian language internet media to jargon-free, non-extremist voices of truth and reason; to balanced news reporting; and to the benefits of tolerance and coexistence. As a result of their training, course participants created six new blogs and upgraded eight. The Russian language blogosphere now boasts blogs on Jewish pluralism; environment sustainability; young people’s rights including the struggle for decent housing; the rights of mixed families, and more. Based on the success of this course in 2012 two new courses will be opened up, one of which will be held in Israel’s North.