Acclimating to a new society is rarely easy. For Ethiopian Jewish women who have immigrated to Israel, finding their footing in Israeli careers can be especially challenging. But the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and our partners at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) help. In 1994, in response to the swell of Ethiopian émigrés to Israel during the ‘80s, JDC created Eshet Chayil: A three-year job-training program specifically for Ethiopian-Israeli women. “A lot of my work is helping women find their own strength,” says Yafit, regional coordinator of Eshet Chayil.
Yafit herself is an immigrant to Israel, having made the difficult trip from a small Jewish village in northern Ethiopia at the age of seven. After arriving in Ashkelon, Yafit strove to learn Hebrew and to adjust to her new homeland, eventually earning a degree in education and entering the professional world. At Eshet Chayil (“Women of Valor”), she now helps women assess their potential and determine future goals. In the program, women receive skills training, participate in personal and group counseling along with community outreach, and then are coached through their entry into the workplace and throughout their first years on the job. For those accustomed to an agricultural lifestyle and who often prioritize getting their families situated in this foreign land, the adjustment can be a challenge.
“I try to show these women that by improving their careers, they are in fact strengthening their families and communities,” Yafit continues. “I help these women find solutions to perceived obstacles that prevent them from advancing.” And it works. After the first year of Eshet Chayil, 73% of Ethiopian-Israeli women find employment, and nearly 95% of participants remain employed six months after starting their first post-Eshet Chayil positions.
The program has been so successful, in fact, that JDC has created Eshet Chayil expansion programs to help advance immigrant women from the Caucauses and Uzbekistan, as well as Arab immigrant women. What began as an initiative to help Ethiopian-Israeli women has now grown into one of the most wide-ranging career programs in Israel.
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Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federations of North America.