Afikim graduates Shmuel and Batel Asmara took Bergen County by storm and brought a whole new perspective to the recent Torah portion Ki Tavo with stories of their arrival from Ethiopia to modern-day Israel and their complete but rocky absorption into Israeli society.
The Asmara siblings fascinated the students of Yeshivat Noam and the congregants of Congregation Keter Torah with the little-known history of Ethiopian Jewry and their personal aliyah story. As young Olim from Ethiopia they remember experiencing, along with their families, euphoria at arriving in the Holy Land of Israel, and their shock at discovering that “there are white Jews in the world!”
Shmuel and Batel spoke of their drive to succeed and the kindness and support of those who helped them and other Ethiopians find their way in this new and foreign land. Their story is one of hardship, hard work, and success. As religious teenagers, they are dedicated to serving their community; Shmuel has just completed a year of national service working with underprivileged Ethiopian youth and is awaiting his conscription into an elite commando unit, while Batel will be commencing her national service in the coming months.
Both Batel and Shmuel attribute their success to their parents, who drove them to be the best they can be, and to the Afikim Family Enrichment Association, which over the years provided educational and welfare services to their family. Shmuel arrived at Afikim as a young teenager struggling with his school work and without the means to receive supplementary help at home. After years of diligent work in the Afikim Learning Center he graduated with honors from the prestigious Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. At that point, Shmuel also “took on” the Ministry of Education in a battle to extend his father’s status as a new immigrant so he could receive benefits for higher education. “My father denied himself so that his children would not miss out on anything, and now it is time that I pay him back,” he said. As a typical teenager, Shmuel took his battle to the social media arena and in an appeal on Facebook approached the Minister of Education, Shai Piron, in a request to help his father.
“I came to Israel 14 years ago from Ethiopia. I am the eldest of five children. My parents work hard to support the family and my father wants to learn and obtain his matriculation certificate,” Asmara wrote to Piron. “My father does not give up. He returns from work late and instead of resting sits and learns.”
The Minister replied through Asmara’s Facebook page saying: “Shmuel, your story is both exciting and stimulating. I have learned so much from you.”
Shmuel and Batel are only two examples of the children Afikim helps. The statistics are grim: In Israel today, nearly 350,000 children are classified as at risk, and one in every three children lives below the poverty line. An increasing number of children are being raised in families plagued by poverty, unemployment, mental illness, neglect, and abuse. Like Shmuel and Batel, many of these kids are left to their own devices each afternoon and become caught in a cycle of emotional and behavioral problems. That’s where Afikim steps in.
Unique in its holistic, long-term approach, the Afikim Family Enrichment Association provides children at risk–and their parents–with the skills and support to achieve success in all areas of life. For six consecutive years, from third to eighth grade, and again in junior high and high school programs, these children are integrated into Afikim’s Learning Centers where activities include experiential academic lessons, value-oriented education, computers, enrichment workshops, and two daily meals.
Parents are essential partners in Afikim’s vision of helping needy children reach their true potential. Afikim’s Parental Empowerment Centers offer parenting workshops that teach the parents effective parenting and communication skills in addition to budgeting and home management. Most importantly, the Afikim staff provides personal guidance and counseling to help these parents achieve the stability and success they have always dreamed of.
Afikim is a non-profit association with branches in Kiryat Malachi, Kiryat Shmona Lod, and Jerusalem. For more information, please contact:
Afikim Israel Family Enrichment Association
44 Jabotinsky Street POB 4102 Jerusalem 91041
Email: [email protected]
By Miriam Grotsky