From Ethiopia to the Finish Line

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Their journeys began with painful, arduous and even frightening steps. Yet today, they are running the last stretch with leaps and bounds. Five years after immigrating to Israel, Boys Town Jerusalem’s Ethiopian students are now beginning their senior year at the school. By all standards, their progress has been extraordinary.

“When these 13 young men first arrived in Boys Town, they were in the throes of trauma,” recalled Rabbi Yigal Subahu, coordinator of the Ethiopian program. “Several were orphans on their own, and most others were from broken homes. They suffered from food deprivation and serious attention deficiencies, and had no knowledge of Hebrew, academic skills or Jewish studies. But they worked hard, and we worked hard, with an intensive program of study from morning to night. Every accomplishment they’ve made has come from sheer will power and very diligent work.”

Chief among those accomplishments, the Ethiopian students have all passed their difficult national bagrut matriculation exams to date, and several have scored in the 90+ percentile. A number of students have clinched silver and bronze medals in country-wide athletic meets. All have mastered computer skills and are among the select Israeli high school students studying the CISCO Network Managing Program. Equally impressive, Rabbi Subahu points out, is that the Ethiopian students have become “more Israeli,” taking an active part in Boys Town activities and making good friends among their Israeli-born classmates.

“Looking back, I see that we made a wise decision from the start to plunge these new immigrant students into an intensive program focused on Hebrew-language studies, math, English and Jewish studies,” Rabbi Subahu said. “I stopped speaking to them in the Amharic language after their first half year–it was Hebrew only from then on. Beyond their very demanding curriculum of studies, they’ve also taken intensive summer courses devoted to preparing them for the bagrut matriculations.”

The upcoming senior year will be a particularly rigorous one, Rabbi Subahu notes, with additional bagrut exams and high-level academic requirements. “Soon they’ll be going out into the world, enlisting in the IDF and beginning university. We’re redoubling our efforts this year to give them strong tools to succeed, and the broad knowledge of Jewish ethics and values that will sustain them. Boys Town has invested a great deal in each student, giving the best education and opportunities. For the staff, it’s been quite exciting and gratifying to be involved in such a challenging project. We’ll closely follow the future progress of these young men, and we’ll be here for them to ‘come home to’ wherever their new journeys may take them.”

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