Ethiopia, in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world's poorest countries. According to the UN, about 29 per cent of the population lives below the national poverty line and Ethiopia ranks 174th out of 187 countries on the UN’s human development index. The mostly rural population lacks basic social and economic infrastructure such as health and education facilities and access to safe drinking water, and is vulnerable to harsh climatic changes such as drought. Women are much less likely than men to receive an education or health benefits and this leads to more infant deaths, undernourished families, lack of education for children and other deprivations.
According to UNESCO, education of women and children is an essential ingredient in leading Sub-Saharan countries out of extreme poverty and in saving lives. UNESCO reports that an estimated 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in the region in 2008 if their mothers had received a secondary education. To this end, international development agencies are putting a tremendous focus on education which is one of Project TEN’s areas of expertise.
Located in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, north Ethiopia, Gondar is one of Ethiopia’s poorest cities. In addition, it was a center of Ethiopia’s Jewish population and housed the Jewish Agency’s Community center and projects of the JDC and AJWS. Because of these pre-existing programs and partnerships, Gondar was a natural location for Project TEN’s Global Tikkun Olam program in Ethiopia.
Why volunteer with Project TEN in Gondar, Ethiopia?
Join our unique program to help support and educate Ethiopia’s orphans, street children and parents. You will have the chance to make a real contribution to existing volunteer projects as well as bringing your own ideas and creativity while being supported and guided by our experienced Project TEN staff. You will live in our Project TEN Gondar center, and your time will be divided between volunteering and reflection - exploring your own identity and values, and learning how to make volunteer work and social change part of your day to day life back home. Our center is situated a short distance from downtown Gondar, making volunteer activities easily accessible.
Our Volunteer Projects include:
- MOBILE SCHOOLS FOR STREET CHILDREN - teaching children in poor neighborhoods who do not regularly attend school
- AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAMS FOR HOMELESS AND ORPHANED CHILDREN AT THE YENEGE TESFA and Bridge of Hope ORPHANAGES - including Math and English tuition
- TEACHING AT THE ST RAPHAEL BOARDING SCHOOL FOR THE BLIND and at the Association for the Blind - including teaching English, motor skills, crafts, and music to children and teens.
- HEALTH AWARENESS EDUCATION PROGRAM in collaboration with local organization NALA for teens and young adults in Azezo, one of Gondar’s poorest neighborhoods
- URBAN AGRICULTURE PROJECT FOR SINGLE MOTHERS - helping them increase their crop yields in a self-sustaining way. Volunteers provide manual labor: ox-tilling new fields, planting vegetables to help rotate the crops and provide variety to the family's diet, and laying down drip irrigation.
- LEADERSHIP TRAINING PROJECT for young adults, teaching skills to empower local young leaders.
Our Partner Organizations:
- Yenege Tesfa - (Hope for Tomorrow). Yenege Tesfa was founded in 2001 to provide a better life for homeless and parentless children. Their mission is to provide Gondar’s orphans and vulnerable children with a happy family life, a home, education, good health and a bright future. Yenege Tesfa provides homes for 80 children, school support for 910 kids as well as child day care, learning centers, community development, micro-finance, agricultural skills and a mobile school. For more information see - http://www.yenegetesfa.org/
- NALA - is a Non-Profit Organization affiliated with The Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben-Gurion University, Israel and the Infectious Disease Control Programs in Africa. NALA’s goals are to Fight Infectious Diseases and Overcome Poverty particularly in Africa. In Ethiopia, NALA developed a comprehensive program -integrating health education and mass drug administration for deworming large populations in Ethiopia.. NALA's intervention programs consist of - Surveys, Health Education, Mass Drug Administration, Capacity building Workshops, Trainings, Water Supply and Sanitation, Monitoring and Evaluation. NALA has developed programs that are built around volunteers. The volunteers main role is the reinforcement of health education as part and parcel of tropical disease eradication program. For more information see - http://www.nalafoundation.org/
- Bridge of Hope - has been operational in Ethiopia since 2001. They established amd run Gondar Children’s Village home for 150 orphan children Their goals include fighting poverty, HIV/AIDs and illiteracy, targeting specifically children who are the most vulnerable members of the society. For more information see - http://www.bridgeofhopeet.org/
In addition to the structured volunteer programs, there are also many opportunities for Project TEN participants to fill local needs on their own initiative. For example, one past group wrote, designed, and distributed to hotels a set of coupons that can be exchanged for a loaf of bread at local bakeries; instead of giving cash to street children (which is often taken by adults), tourists can instead give the children these coupons, to ensure the children actually receive food.
Another project that was initiated by the volunteers were "street business" activities that taught the street children how to create things they can sell that included: jewelry made of avocado pits, postcards, bags and other items made of string and a "street newspaper" that is distributed around the city.
Another past group, on their own initiative, taught English during their lunch hours to the staff of the Bridge for Hope agricultural village for orphans.
The staff and volunteers also develop projects for the beautification of the Center, for their own benefit and for the benefit of future groups of volunteers. Projects may include a garden, a music room, a book and digital library, etc.
The volunteer work may expose you to situations that you find emotionally challenging. The Center's staff will always be there to support you.
We are looking for staff! Click here for details.
What is Project TEN?
Investing in Social Change
"תן", pronounced "Ten," is the Hebrew word for "Give."
It is also the name of a Jewish Agency initiative that is revolutionizing the Jewish meaning of giving.
The Jewish Agency's Project TEN: Global Tikkun Olam harnesses the energies and passion of Jewish young adults from Israel and around the world, who spend three months working and learning together in onsite service projects in vulnerable communities throughout the world and in Israel.
By highlighting the Jewish values that speak directly to sustainable development, social justice, and leadership, Project TEN serves as a unique immersive service-learning framework for volunteers wishing to engage in sustainable development as they themselves develop – forming an extensive Jewish identity-building experience. Volunteers in each of our development centers are carefully chosen from all over the world, connecting the global Jewish family to one another and to Israel. Read more
Life at the Center
The Project TEN Center in Gondar is situated in a closed compound that holds two buildings, and is patrolled 24/7. Each building contains "apartments" – clean bedrooms, most of which have en suite bathrooms – as well as classrooms, a communal dining room, kitchen, and other spaces. The volunteers will stay in one building, and the staff in the other. The volunteers will board together with 2-4 in each room, and the atmosphere will be kibbutz-style.
The center will employ local staff to help clean and cook. However, it is the volunteers' responsibility to maintain cleanliness in their rooms and other areas, and to prepare Shabbat dinner each week.
The food in all of the centers is kosher-style vegetarian. If you crave meat, you can travel into Gondar and enjoy a restaurant meal at a ridiculously low price. (Note: there are no kosher restaurants.)
The water in Gondar is clean, but we do not recommend drinking it from just any source. Safe water will be provided at the center, and bottled water is available at stores.
Wireless internet is provided for free in the rooms, though we advise against bringing expensive gadgets with you.
Michal Bar-On, was born in Kibbutz Dovrat and grew up in Afula. She's been working in the education field in Israel for more than 20 years, ever since she was a teenager; in informal education as an Israel Scouts leader and in formal education as a teacher in primary school. She holds a B.Ed. in Creative Education and an M.Ed. in Management of Educational Systems from the Kibbutzim Seminary.
Michal also initiated the establishment of a Community garden in north Tel Aviv which was a platform for community meetings and for learning about Ecological Sustainability and Permaculture.
Michal served as Program Coordinator in the TEN-B'Tzedek Center in Hyderabad, India for a year, during which she was responsible for training methodology, project development and enhancing the group and community dynamics of the TEN participants.
As Deputy-Director, Michal is continuing her amazing work with the Project TEN family.
NALA Project Coordinator
Savyonne Steindler was born and raised in California, USA. After receiving her BA in Anthropology and Jewish Studies, she spent a year living and volunteering within an Ethiopian community in Israel. Now Savyonne coordinates the NALA project in Project Ten Gondar.
At Risk Youth, Orphans and Street Children Project Coordinator
Gal who was raised on Moshav Neta'im in Central Israel now works to better the life of at risk youth, orphans and street children in Gondar Ethiopia.
Hibste Mekonnen Sekae
Hibste joined the Project TEN Gondar team in Feb. 2014. She has an M.A. in Developmental Anthropology and seven years of experience with the Italian organization CVM in HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs. Hibste past experience includes managing the operation of all Yenege Tesfa's projects. Hibste is a field consultant for Project TEN in Gondar, helping Project TEN to design volunteer opportunities and network with other programs in the city. She advises Project TEN on Ethiopian culture generally, and on the country's social-activism platforms in particular.
The next Project TEN groups in Gondar will take place on the following dates:
- December 10, 2014 - March 3, 2015
- March 11 - June 2, 2015
- June 10 - August 31, 2015
- Summer Track I: June 10 - July 30, 2015
- Summer Track II: July 1 - August 31, 2015
- September 9 - December 1, 2015
- December 9, 2015 - March 1, 2016
(Dates may change slightly; contact our staff at email@example.com for updates).
The cost for a three-month Project TEN track is heavily subsidized, and it includes volunteer, social, and learning activities; transportation between the center and your volunteer placement; Internet connection; trips and excursions; and food and lodging. Cost is just under $10 per day, and a total of $900 for a three-month program.
The cost does not include your airfare to the target country, health insurance, visa fees, or vaccinations.
Upon acceptance to the program you will be given instructions to reserve your place with a $75 registration payment through this website, which is included in the total of $900 per track, and not in addition to it. The balance will be paid prior to arrival.
For information about the Pay It Forward Fund, which might subsidize up to 50 percent of your participation costs -- with your pledge to pay back the scholarship to provide aid to future volunteers -- please go to our cost section.
Ethiopia: History, Culture, and Economics
Known in ancient times as Abyssinia, Ethiopia is culturally unique, as it has never been colonized by a European power, and spent many years isolated from external forces. Among the ancient artifacts you can visit from Ethiopia's unbroken chain of cultural history are the enormous Obelisks of Aksum (400 C.E.), the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela (1,200 C.E.) and the Tigray Rock Churches.
Ethiopia boasts some of the most stunning sites on the African continent. There are many places to hike and camp in Ethiopia; this is one country where you can truly get away from power lines and Coca Cola, and spend time in true wilderness, such as at the Nile Gorge or the Simien mountains, whose ruggedly-carved steeples and spires form a UNESCO World Heritage site. Or visit the hot but fascinating Danikal Depression, with its volcanoes and lunar-like landscape. In the Omo Valley, many tribes still live lifestyles untouched by modern technology.
The population of Ethiopia is estimated at around 84 million, of whom more than half are under 20 years old.
Throughout Ethiopia, more than 80 different languages are spoken by local populations, testifying to the cultural richness here. The main three languages are Amharic (the national language), Tigrigna, and Oromigna. English is spoken widely.
The food and drink of Ethiopia reflects the many different cultures. A typical dish is Wot, a hot spicy stew of meat or vegetables, seasoned with a blend of Berbere (chili powder). It may also be made with Doro (chicken), and is normally served with Injera, the traditional spongy pancake made from a fermented Teff flour batter. The famous honey wine, or Tej, is found all over the country as is Tela, a local beer, and Katikala, distilled liquor.
Ethiopian writing uses unique characters (letters), and the annual holidays and festivals follow a unique calendar. For example, Ethiopian Christmas comes out on January 7.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition has been undisturbed here since 300 C.E., and there are many fascinating ancient churches to visit. After Christianity, another main religion in Ethiopia is Islam.
The following important information was provided by The World Bank (www.worldbank.org), a non-profit organization working to reduce poverty world-wide:
With a population of about 84 million (2012), Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Sub-Saharan Africa, but also the sixth-poorest country in the world, with a 2010 per-capita income of only $390, compared to $1,165 for the Sub-Saharan African average.
For much of the 20th century, Ethiopia was ruled by highly centralized governments. The current ruling party (the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has governed Ethiopia since 1991. Since taking power, the EPRDF has led an ambitious reform effort to initiate a transition to a more democratic system of governance and decentralize authority. This has involved devolving powers and mandates first to regional states, and then to woredas, or district authorities, and kebeles, or village authorities.
Although the formal Ethiopian state structure has been transformed from a highly centralized system to a federal and increasingly decentralized one, a number of challenges remain. The national elections in 2005 and 2010, and the largely uncontested local elections in April 2008, illustrated the fragility of the democratic transition, the dominance of the EPRDF, and the weakened state of the opposition. The May 2010 parliamentary elections resulted in a 99.6 percent victory for the ruling EPRDF and its allies, reducing the opposition from 174 to only two seats in the 547-member lower house.
The main challenge for Ethiopia is to continue and accelerate the progress made in recent years toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to address the causes of poverty among its population.
Over the past two decades, there has been significant progress in key human development indicators: primary school enrollments have quadrupled, child mortality has been cut in half, and the number of people with access to clean water has more than doubled. More recently, poverty reduction has accelerated. The poverty headcount measured by nationally representative household surveys was 44 percent in 1999/2000, but fell to 39 percent in 2004/05 and further down to 30 percent in 2010/11.
These gains, together with more recent moves to strengthen the fight against malaria and HIV/AIDS, paint a picture of improved well-being in Ethiopia. Notwithstanding the progress in critical aspects of human development, Ethiopia needs considerable investment and improved policies to achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, given the country's low starting point.
Sites of Interest by City
During your three months with Project TEN you will be working very hard at your volunteer service, Jewish learning, and other responsibilities. However, we know that you might be interested in touring the region. If you want to arrive in Ethiopia early, or stay after Project TEN, and visit the sites on your own time, you are welcome to do so.
- Addis Ababa: The capital of Ethiopia. The Mercato is the largest in Africa. Although the Mercato is no more or less safe than the rest of the city, we recommend taking a day to scope it out without money or cameras – then come back once you know the lay of the land.
- Arba Minch: On the way to Omo Valley, you'll see vast numbers of crocodiles and hippopotami at Lake Chamo.
- Axum: the area where the Ark of the Covenant is reputed to be kept, and the headquarters of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
- Bahir Dar: A large lakeside town with an international airport. Among the sites there are the Blue Nile Falls, and the Market.
- Bale Mountains: in southwest-Ethiopia, enjoy trekking in the Afro-Alpine plateaus.
- Blue Nile Gorge, between Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar, has breathtaking views, waterfalls, and swimming holes.
- Gondar: The palace compound contains several castles built by Ethiopian Emperors 300-400 years ago. The city is also the gateway to the Simien Mountains. While hiking through the mountains – you'll need a guide, as well as an armed guard -- you will find Gelada baboons who will sit beside your path, oblivious to you, as well as fascinating flora and other fauna, and traditional farmers and small settlements.
- Hawassa: the capital of southern Ethiopia is a laid-back, lakeside university town with numerous hotels. Take a boat to see hippopotami.
- Lake Langano: this is the best of the Rift Valley lakes for swimming. There are no towns on the lake, just isolated hotels such as the Sabana Beach Resort.
- Lalibela: Hire a donkey for a day trip up the mountain to see famous rock-hews churches there and enjoy the views.
- Omo Valley: book a guide, and visit one or more of the indigenous tribes.
- Shashemene: The heart of the Rastafari migrated here, and expatriate Jamaicans blend with locals to create a city that is culturally distinct from the rest of Ethiopia. Visit a "pharmacy" and learn about traditional medicine.
- Wenchi Crater Lake: One of the most beautiful places on the planet. For a very low fee you can take a five-hour pony trek. Or make it a two-day trip from Addis Ababa, and stay overnight at Ambo or Wolisso.
- Western Ethiopia Eco-Tourist Route: Starting at Addis Ababa via Ambo, the Wenchi Crater Lake, and Guder falls, this is a route of several hundred kilometers that takes you through Nekemte (with its 18th-century palace and the Wollega Museum), the Didessa Valley (fishing, bird-watching, etc.), Gimbi (organic coffee plantations, traditional gold mining), Kelem (Dhati-Walal National Park), Gambella National Park, and back to Addis Ababa.
We recommend the 2009 edition of The Bradt Guide to Ethiopia; a new edition is also due in 2012.
Profile of the Ethiopian Jewish Community
For more than 2000 years, Ethiopian Jewry, called Falashas or outsiders by their neighbors, maintained their Jewish beliefs and practices in the remote hills of Gondar, away from the regulation of ruling dynasties and dominant religions. With the rising popularity of Christianity in the fourth century, Ethiopian Jews first fled to the mountainous Gondar region in order to escape persecution and forced conversion. In the 10th century, Queen Judith overthrew the Axum dynasty and uprooted Christianity’s hold on the country, ushering in approximately 350 years of peace between Ethiopia’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens. Yet, the Axum dynasty returned to the throne once again in 1270 and set off 400 years of tribal war and bloodshed between the religious factions. In 1624, Jewish forces were defeated by Portuguese-backed Ethiopians and a long period of oppression began as Jewish captives were sold into slavery or forcibly baptized. Their lands were confiscated their writings and religious books were burned, and the practice of any form of Jewish religion was forbidden in Ethiopia.
Over the next couple of hundred years, despite some encounters with explorers and missionaries, Ethiopia’s Jewish community remained fairly isolated. In 1908, the chief rabbis of 45 countries collectively declared their social recognition according to Jewish law (Halacha) of Ethiopian Jewry, due to the work of Professor Jaques Faitlovitch who traveled to Gondar in 1904 and stayed with the local population for 18 months, observing their customs.
Faitlovitch studied Amharic and Tigrinia at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes in Paris under Professor Yosef Halevi, who first visited the Ethiopian Jews in 1867. Upon his return to Europe, Halevi published a Kol Korei, or public proclamation, asking the world Jewish community to save the Ethiopian Jews, or Beta Israel.
Faitlovich perpetuated Halevi’s advocacy and appealed to the European Jewish community for aid to the Jews of Ethiopia. He returned to Ethiopia in 1920 and established a small local school and the community’s first boarding school in Addis Ababa in 1924.
When Israel gained its independence in 1948, The Jewish Agency for Israel set out on its pioneering mission to bring Diaspora Jews to Israel. The Jewish Agency sent educational emissaries to Ethiopia to help encourage Aliyah to Israel among local Jews and teach Hebrew and Jewish studies. By 1955, The Jewish Agency had founded several local schools and a teacher’s seminary for the Beta Israel and also began to send small groups of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
Since the seventeenth century, Jews were not allowed to own land and were treated poorly by their neighbors. By the middle of the twentieth century, the political situation for Jews in Ethiopia had worsened and Jews were blamed as scapegoats for any national misfortune that arose. In 1974, political turmoil left nearly 2,500 Jews dead and 7,000 homeless. By 1977, the situation had become so unbearable that groups of Jews began to flee the country and established refugee camps in Sudan. Soon after their emigration had begun, Jews caught traveling across Ethiopia were charged, imprisoned and tortured. But the exodus continued and the number of Jews living in squalid refugee camps in Sudan quickly rose into the thousands.
After taking office in1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was eager to facilitate the rescue of Ethiopia’s Jews. Israel began selling arms to ruling dictator Colonel Mengitsu in exchange for allowing Ethiopian Jews to leave for Israel. In August and December of 1977, Begin asked Mengitsu to allow 120 Ethiopian Jews to board two Israeli military planes who emptied their weapons cargo in Ethiopia. Mengitsu agreed, setting an important precedent for the mass exodus of Operation Moses.
In the early 1980s, practicing Judaism and teaching Hebrew was strictly forbidden. The government confiscated all Hebrew books, closed all Jewish schools and synagogues and arrested all Jewish students caught speaking to tourists. Ethiopian Jewish community leaders, or Kesim, were routinely harassed by the government, while other Jewish community figures were falsely imprisoned as “Zionist Spies”.
Famine, a constant threat of war, forced conscription at the age of 12, high infant mortality rates, poor health care and terrible living conditions further threatened the survival of Ethiopian Jewry. Diaspora Jews prompted the government of Israel to apply pressure on the Ethiopian government to release Ethiopian Jews and attempt to rescue the thousand of Jews struggling to survive in both Sudan and Ethiopia.
During the early 1980’s, Israel had already begun covert operatives to smuggle Ethiopian Jews out of Ethiopia and Sudan into Israel. By the end of 1982, approximately 2,500 Ethiopian Jews had been resettled in Israel and, during 1983, another 1,800 left for Sudan on foot. Israeli agents began to expedite their operations by using Hercules military transport planes that can each hold 200 passengers.
The large number of Jews crossing from Ethiopia into Sudan by foot was enacting a terrible human toll; those who survived the trek arrived at overcrowded refugee camps with substandard conditions. The Israeli Government realized that a large-scale operation was necessary and on November 21st 1984, Operation Moses began. With diplomatic tensions high in Ethiopia, as well as the risk of flying over Arab airspace, the operation was carried out with utmost secrecy by the Jewish Agency. Refugees were bused from the camps directly to a military airport near Khartoum and were airlifted directly to Israel. Within six weeks, between November 21st 1984 and January 5th 1985, The Jewish Agency had successfully brought 7,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
News leaks ended Operation Moses prematurely, as Arab nations pressured the Sudanese government to prevent Ethiopian Jews from reaching Sudanese territory. About 600 Jews were left behind in Sudan and almost 15,000 Jews were left behind in Ethiopia.
In the five years that followed, political obstacles prevented further rescue of Jews from Ethiopia. In 1985, US Vice President George Bush initiated a follow-up mission called Operation Joshua to bring 600 Ethiopian Jews remaining in Sudan to Israel, however negotiations fell on deaf ears. While thousands were fortunate to have escaped during Operation Moses and Operation Joshua, families were separated from each other during the operations. Since children and elderly were the first to be airlifted, approximately 1,600 Ethiopian children became “orphans of circumstance,” separated from their families still in Ethiopia.
In November 1989, Ethiopia and Israel reached an agreement that would allow Ethiopian Jews to move to Israel under the context of family reunification. With diplomatic relations resumed, the Ethiopian government was willing to allow immigration to Israel beyond the original framework of reunification.
Between January 1990 and May 1991, 8,500 Ethiopian Jews were brought to Israel. In May 1991, rebel forces overthrew Mengitsu’s dictatorship and by mid-year claimed control of Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. Prospects for retrieving the remaining 14,500 Beta Israel were beginning to look very bleak.
Realizing the need for immediate action, The Jewish Agency and the Israeli Government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, initiated what would become one of the quickest and most amazing rescue efforts in history. Beginning on Friday, May 24th, El Al, Israel’s national airline, flew 36 jumbo jets and Hercules military transport planes for 36 hours straight. All of the interior seats were removed to accommodate the maximum number of passengers.
Operation Solomon, named after the king from whom the Beta Israel draw their lineage, ended almost as quickly as it began. Timing was critical since the fickle rebel forces could easily change their minds and use the Beta Israel as bargaining tools for more power with Israel or the United States.
As Jews around the world were preparing for the end of the Sabbath, they were greeted with the amazing news of Operation Solomon: within 36 hours, a total of 14,310 Ethiopian Jews were rescued and resettled in Israel by the Jewish Agency.
The powerful modern exodus of Operation Solomon demonstrated the importance of the Jewish state as the beacon of light for distressed Jews around the world. After thousands of years of exile, Ethiopian Jews had returned to the land of Zion where families who had been separated for a decade were reunited in emotional ceremonies.
Rescue of Jews from Quara
In May 1991, when The Jewish Agency airlifted 14,000 Ethiopian Jews with Operation Solomon, the Quara Jews were left behind. Their province was under rebel control and they could not make their way to Addis Ababa to take part in the exodus. In 1992, about 3,500 Jews living in Upper Quara were brought to Israel, while the 2,500 Jews of Lower Quara were once again left behind because of civil unrest in the area.
In 1999, the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea escalated, which further exacerbated the already desperate situation of the Quara Jews. Since there were no internal flights to Gondar, the Jewish Agency sent buses to bring the Quara Jews to Addis Ababa. Under difficult conditions, including flooding and rough terrain, the Jewish Agency over the course of 37 days, brought 1,388 Quara Jews home to Israel.
Falas Mura – Family Reunification
Following Operation Solomon, small waves of Ethiopian immigrants called Falas Mura continued to immigrate to Israel. Large numbers of these Ethiopian Jews, termed Falashas or outsiders, were convert-ed to Christianity under duress but maintained their Jewish faith and identity. Over the years, the Falas Mura fled persecution and sought refuge at the residential compounds in Addis Ababa and Gondar.
Before Operation Solomon, the Falas Mura were relatively unknown to the Jewish community outside of Ethiopia. When they first tried to board the planes to Israel with other Ethiopian immigrants, their commitment to Judaism was questioned and large numbers were turned away. Viewing themselves as Jews who needed help reconnecting with their faith, the Falas Mura maintained that they were entitled to immigrate to Israel.
Though the issue remained a matter of fierce debate in Israel, the practical side of the dispute – whether or not the Falas Mura had the right to immigrate to Israel – was determined by the Israeli government in 2003: any Ethiopian who could trace maternal connection to Judaism could come to Israel along with their immediate family.
Since 2011: The Role of The Jewish Agency
In 2011, the Government of Israel requested that The Jewish Agency assume responsibility for operations in Gondar, Ethiopia, to facilitate the Aliyah of members of the extended Jewish community there. The Jewish Agency Community Center is the hub for Ethiopians awaiting their flights to Israel.
The Jewish Agency upgraded the physical environment and the program content of what was originally a compound around which members of the extended Jewish community gathered. The Community Center offers classroom instruction for parents and children; Jewish cultural activities; a synagogue; a mikveh; and a nutrition center, which provides critical food assistance.
The Jewish Agency is investing tremendous effort to provide the members of the extended Jewish community with the skills, educational programming, and support necessary to begin their lives in Israel.
The Gondar Community Center aims to prepare new olim for what they may experience upon their arrival in Israel. Once they have disembarked from their Aliyah flight, the newly-arrived Israeli citizens are brought to one of the 17 Jewish Agency Absorption Centers throughout Israel dedicated to resettling Ethiopian olim. The 24-to-30-month average stay at Jewish Agency Absorption Centers serving Ethiopian olim is recognized as an important window of opportunity to build upon the formal and informal education programs for children and adults offered in Gondar at the Community Center.
The Jewish Agency will bring the remaining members of the extended Jewish community to Israel by October 2013, completing our Aliyah-preparation programming in Gondar. The Community Center in Gondar will cease operations as the last in this historic group make their way to Israel. The Jewish Agency will then hand over our elementary school to the municipality of Gondar.
Climate and What to Pack: There are two seasons: the dry season prevails from October through May; the wet season runs from June to September.
For volunteering in Gondar during the wet season, pack a raincoat and sturdy, high shoes or boots for stomping around in the mud. Bring light clothing for the spring/summer weather during the day, and some warm clothes for the chilly nights. Note that in Ethiopia it is not customary to wear tight or revealing clothing; we advise you to respect this local custom. You'll also need a hat, insect repellent, and sunblock. It is difficult in Ethiopia to find toiletries such as quality soaps and shampoo, so you are advised to bring your own. The center will provide bed linens and towels. We suggest you leave valuables and sophisticated electronics at home.
Time Zone: Ethiopia is in the GMT + 3 hours time zone, which is one hour ahead of Israel and 8 hours ahead of New York most of the year.
Currency: The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr made up of 100 cents. Tourists may bring in with them any amount of foreign currency, provided you make a declaration of the currency to customs when you arrive. Keep the currency declaration form, since you'll need to present it when you leave the country. Legally, you may exchange foreign currency for Birrs (or vice versa) only at authorized banks and hotels. There is a foreign-currency bank at the airport for changing your excess Birrs when you leave. At banks, you can withdraw money at ATMs using an international Visa or MasterCard.
At the current exchange rates, one US dollar is about 17.5 Birr. Examples of prices in Ethiopia: an average meal at a restaurant in Gondar is about 37 Birr, just over $2; a large bottle of water is about 11 Birr; coffee and a pastry costs about 15 Birr.
Electricity Supply: Ethiopia uses 220 volts, 50 cycles AC. We recommend bringing a multi-outlet plug adaptor.
Helpful Phrases in Amharic
Tadias! = Hello!
Deh-nah-neh? = How are you (to a male)
Deh-nah-nesh? = How are you (to a female)
Deh-hay-nah = I am fine
amesegenalew- thank you
Eggs-abh-hair yeest-leeg-nee = may God give you everything you need
For any questions, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org