Among the swimming, singing and marshmallow roasting, overnight camp affords plenty of time for socializing. Such opportunity to fraternize is at the heart of a philanthropic venture bringing two Ethiopian Israeli teens to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s Emma Kaufmann Camp this summer.
“Bridges to Pittsburgh,” which serves under the auspices of the Bridges program, an Israeli-based extracurricular English-immersion endeavor operated by the Ethiopian National Project, will enable the two visiting teens to serve as “mini ambassadors and build bridges between communities,” said Brian Eglash, senior vice president and chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Because of this program, these teens will have the chance to “strengthen their leadership skills and their English skills,” added Kim Salzman, Federation’s director of Israel and overseas operations.
The Federation has long worked in partnership with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, and procuring the arrival of two teenage Ethiopian Israelis is another demonstration of the shared goal of benefiting Jewish youth, explained Federation representatives.
Supporting such initiative was a more than $600,000 grant from an anonymous donor. This generosity provides Israeli teenagers of Ethiopian descent greater chances for academic and social success, said Salzman.
Money from the grant supported a June 19 summit in Jerusalem, attended by more than 600 students of Ethiopian heritage, celebrating the achievements of participating Ethiopian young adults. Moving forward, the three-year grant will allow more than 200 Israelis of Ethiopian descent, including students from Pittsburgh’s Partnership2Gether region of Karmiel and Misgav, to participate in the Ethiopian National Project’s School Performance and Community Empowerment program, a holistic effort designed to meet the needs of schoolchildren, their parents and leaders. Grant funds will also establish a permanent endowment offering medical scholarships to Ethiopian Israelis, at the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation.
The Federation has long supported the Ethiopian Israeli population. When the Ethiopian National Project was starting, “Federation was one of the first to invest in the project,” said Eglash.
Since then, the Jewish umbrella organization has continued to aid the Project, and was listed in the latter’s 2018 annual report as having donated more than $50,000. The Ethiopian National Project also receives funding and support from the Jewish Federations of North America, the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee in Israel, Keren Hayesod-UIA, representatives of Ethiopian Jewish community organizations and others.
Money received benefits Ethiopian Israeli teenagers through numerous social and educational opportunities, including bringing participants to Jewish American summer camps or hosting after school sessions. While the two visiting teenagers come from the Karmiel and Misgav region, the Ethiopian National Project functions in 23 communities throughout the Jewish state and serves more than 3,000 students through scholastic assistance programs and nearly 1,900 youth in 14 outreach centers.
Such efforts are critical to reducing achievement gaps experienced by many Ethiopian Israelis, explained Eglash.
Between 1980 and 1992, approximately 50,000 Ethiopian Jews came to Israel. Despite the Israeli government’s airborne efforts to physically relocate many of these individuals from Africa to the Jewish state, integrative actions were thwarted by “cross-cultural misunderstandings and the development of chronic disease, due to lifestyle changes and differences in cultural beliefs,” noted researcher Jonah B. Cohen in BMJ Case Reports. Organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental, have attempted to improve Ethiopian Israelis’ quality of life by bolstering educational and communal health initiatives, he continued.
This grant, and the opportunity to bring two Ethiopian Israeli teenagers from Pittsburgh’s sister city, is another shot at leveling the playing field, explained Salzman. “It’s challenging to succeed in Israeli society without English. Everyone obviously speaks Hebrew but English opens a lot of doors,” she said.
The teenagers will be able to learn from their American counterparts and utilize those skills upon returning to Israel, explained Eglash.
Similarly, the American teenagers can learn much from the visiting Ethiopian Israelis.
“Many Jewish kids don’t realize how multicultural Israel is,” said Eglash.
Israeli teenagers have previously attended Emma Kaufman Camp, but this year’s delegation will be the first to include Ethiopian Israelis, said Salzman.
Eglash believes Pittsburgh will serve as a model to other communities.
“This is just a really neat concept,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.