SPRINGFIELD – National Women’s Philanthropy Board member, Betsey Freedman, was joined by Federation staff member Amy Berg Nee on a Jewish Federations of North America “mission of a lifetime” to Belarus and Israel. Together with more than 100 volunteers and staff they learned first-hand the impact of the work of JFNA on both the past and the future of Jews across the globe.
Freedman and Nee visited a preschool classroom located in an absorption center in Haifa where, together with the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), Federations provide Jewish summer camps for kids.
Mission participants were told that one of the most important times in a young Israeli Ethiopian child’s life is their graduation from preschool and going on to Kindergarten. For girls, in particular, getting a back pack is a big deal and a “right of passage.” For the fortunate ones, their grandmothers fight over who will get to buy them their first back pack. For those less fortunate, it is not that easy.
On the mission, Freedman and other National Women’s Philanthropy representatives purchased back packs at home and brought them to this center’s graduating class of girls. In presenting them, Freedman wished them luck and said, “May one of you go on to become the first Ethiopian Prime Minister in Israel!”
The next day the group had lunch with Pnina Tamanu-Shata, the first Ethiopian woman to serve as a member of the Knesset. She immigrated from Yesh Atid where her grandfather was a prominent rabbi. When she was three years old, he led 200 people traveling by foot from their village to the Sudan and, ultimately, successfully immigrating to Israel.
Today, Tamanu-Shata is a lawyer, mother of two, a prominent former news anchor as well as the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Chair of the Lobby for Ethiopian Immigrants. Her passion is helping all children at risk and “not just my community.” She says she won’t feel successful as long as there are children in mortal danger, wherever they are. She is horrified by the millions of children that die needlessly every year in Africa but believes strongly in a popular Hebrew saying that, roughly translated, means “Before I go elsewhere I will make sure I take care of my own.” By “her own,” she said she meant the people of Israel. Her dream, she says, is that all children will understand that “Even the sky is not the limit.”
*The above is excerpted and adapted from Freedman and Nee’s travel blog. To read the full blog, please go to www.jewishwesternmass.org