Ethiopian Women in Israel

How the lives of Ethiopian Beta Israel women changed when they made aliyah to Israel.

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This dream was not fully realized, but some students pursued a career in education. Not a single female was selected to study in Europe, since it was considered too dangerous a voyage, but there were one or two female pupils at Dr. Faitlovitch's school in Addis Abeba, founded in 1923.

In the 1950s, two groups of young Beta Israel students came to Israel in order to study; most returned home at the request of the Emperor Haile Selassie to take up governmental and teaching posts in Ethiopia. The groups were mixed--male and female--and two women stayed on in Israel after marrying Israeli men.

Since their immigration to Israel, both boys and girls study at educational establishments. In a survey carried out in 1996 of 120 Ethiopian high school graduates of the Israeli educational system who studied in schools during the years 1987-1989, 98% of the respondents, who were now in their 20s and 30s and setting up their own families, answered that they favored egalitarian education for both sexes (Weil 1997b:102). Girls' educational achievements were similar to those of boys.

Whereas in 1987-1989, nearly ten percent of girls of Ethiopian origin of high-school age were not studying at any educational institution, probably because they were already mothers, today nearly every female adolescent is enrolled in school. However, some young Ethiopian female adolescents are joining their male counterparts, albeit at a slower rate, in dropping out of school without completing 12 grades. Recently, there is an increase in the number of Ethiopian females who are referred or turn to institutions for girls in distress.

At the other extreme, women are among the forerunners of those receiving higher education in Israel. Yardena Fanta holds a doctorate in education from Tel Aviv University. Other women have completed their MAs or are making successful careers in law, social work, social sciences or physiotherapy. In the Hebrew University Program for Excellence in Education among Ethiopian Jews, which trains young Ethiopian Jews as teachers, just over half the students are female.

Occupations and Status

[In 2002], approximately one-third of Ethiopian women in Israel were employed, as distinct from more than one half of Jewish women from other origins. [In 2006/07, 50% of Ethiopian Israeli women were employed as opposed to 70% of all Jewish Israeli women.] The Ethiopian women are largely concentrated in unskilled occupations, although some are employed in white collar occupations, as social workers, clerks, dental assistants and so on.

According to an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) source in February 2003, 48% of Ethiopian women serve in the IDF. Approximately half of those who do not serve volunteer for National Service. Several exceptional women have taken up key positions of leadership in the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel. The 'changing of the guard' is not only with respect to a new, young, secular leadership in Israel, as opposed to an old, religious guard; today, women have also taken the reins.

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Rabbi Steven Weil

Rabbi Steven Weil is rabbi of the Young Israel of Oak Park in Oak Park, Michigan.

Shalva Weil

Shalva Weil is senior researcher at the NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in Indian Jews and other ethnic groups. She is the editor of Ethiopian Jews in the Limelight (1997) and two bibliographies on Ethiopian Jewry (2001; 2004). In 2004, she was appointed president of SOSTEJE (Society for the Study of Ethiopian Jewry).