26 Heshvan, 5765
Bios of Lone Immigrant Students and Soldiers
Participating at the GA in Jewish Agency Events
Through Atidm, I not only improved my grades and gained self-confidence, I have been given an equal opportunity to succeed."
Born in Ethiopia, Tova Kasahun (17) and her family made aliyah in 1991. An outstanding student especially in math and English, one of Tova's teachers at school in Ramle noticed her potential and quickly recruited her for ATIDIM, which literally means "future." Tova is one of hundreds of youth taking part in this national initiative of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in partnership with the Jewish Agency for Israel.
The primary goal of ATIDIM is to help young people from development towns break the cycle of poverty and lack of hope by encouraging them to pursue careers in science and technology and supporting them (financially and otherwise) while they do so. The secondary goals are to ensure that the IDF has a core of educated and motivated officers to help ensure its qualitative edge, as well as to ensure that Israel's intellectual capacity is used to the maximum benefit of society in general.
Now a third year participant, Tova is thrilled to be part of this once in a lifetime opportunity. "Through ATIDIM, I not only improved my grades and gained self-confidence, I have been given an equal opportunity to succeed." About one-third of ATIDIM students are new immigrants like Tova.
ATIDIM incorporates two distinct phases: pre-military and university years. During the pre-army phase, ATIDIM provides honors-level education that reinforces and emphasizes values, while leading to a diploma focused on sciences, a commitment to IDF service and to participating in Israeli society. Assistance during university years provides each ATIDIM student with a full financial scholarship for undergraduate studies (3 years in science; 4 years in engineering)-including all tuition, living expenses, a personal laptop computer and tutoring.
The year before ATIDIM was launched, less than 1% of the IDF's prestigious Academic Reserves came from Israel's socially and geographically vulnerable areas. Today, only three years into the program, almost 40% of the IDF Academic Reserves is comprised of ATIDIM students.
Alon Ben Cnaan
"I am a lone soldier serving in the Israeli army's anti-guerilla warfare commando unit. I cannot afford to be worrying about my finances when we are on a life-threatening mission."
Alon Ben Cnaan (21) was born in Columbia, where he grew up listening to his father's war stories from the time he served in the Israeli Air Force. He attended a Jewish day school and quickly became active in the Jewish youth movement, rising to the position of head of the education committee. Although he visited Israel frequently to see his father's family, it was not until the age of 16, when he came to Israel with his class for three months, that it became clear to Alon that he would make Israel his home.
Always a decisive young man, Alon graduated from high school and one week later he was in Israel studying at the Technion's pre-academic program in Haifa. He rented an apartment, worked and studied. Eleven months later, he joined the Israeli Air Force.
Alon spent one year training to be a pilot, and then was transferred to the elite anti-guerilla warfare commando unit. He rose to become the unit commander's communication specialist, and in covert field operations, Alon can make or break a mission.
Alon is also a new immigrant soldier who is alone in Israel. He rents a one-room apartment and has to pay the rent and all of his living expenses. When he is home for the weekend, Alon has to take care of errands and chores that most of his army buddies count on their families to do.
"My friends and I love the army," says Alon. "But when we are in the field, we must focus all of our energy on the operation and not be thinking about how we are going to pay this month's bills."
In response to the urgent need to improve the quality of life for immigrant soldiers, the Jewish Agency has established the new Fund for Immigrant Soldiers Alone in Israel. The Fund will cover basic needs such as paying rent, utilities, clothing, laundry expenses, transportation costs and other basics that are not covered by their army stipend.
One hundred percent of the support will go directly to the 2,500 young immigrant soldiers who are putting their lives on the line in order to defend their new country.
"The Jewish Agency gave me the chance to come to Israel by myself. Now my parents, grandparents and brother have come, and we are building a new life together."
Marina Galper (25) grew up in St. Petersburg, where for the first ten years of her life, it was forbidden to practice or study Judaism. At the age of 13, her father gave her the book Exodus, which awakened her quest for her Jewish heritage.
After attending a Jewish Agency for Israel summer camp in her teen years, Marina decided that she wanted to live in Israel. At the age of 17, she returned to her homeland on the Jewish Agency's Selah program. This study program brings students to Israel without their parents, in the hope that the children will be a catalyst for their families to make aliyah.
Marina spent one year at the Jewish Agency's Ibim Absorption Center, near Sderot where together with other Selah students, she learned a new language, new traditions and a new culture. This first year in Israel was the springboard for Marina's outstanding success in building a new life in Israel.
Marina received her BA in economics from the College of Management in Rishon L'Zion, studying and working to support herself. She passed a rigorous interview process and is now working in the investment department of one of Israel's largest banks.
Marina, whose mother is not Jewish, underwent a very meaningful conversion, and now she feels truly connected to the country and to the people of Israel. "I always felt Jewish," says Marina. "And now I have found a whole new world of tradition that is right for me."
Five years ago Marina's older brother, who holds a master's degree in engineering, made aliyah. Two years ago, Marina's parents and grandparents from her father's side followed in their footsteps. Her father has found work in his field, engineering, and her mother, a computer teacher, is seeking employment.
"Anyone who wants to make aliyah can do it," says Marina. "The Jewish Agency gave me the chance to take that first difficult step, and now my whole family has a better future together in Israel."
"From the first moment I stepped off the plane and saw the Israeli flag waving in the wind, I knew that I wanted to make Israel my home."
Tsvi Gouet (24) was born into a traditional Jewish family in Paris. His father, a distinguished physics professor and his mother, a hematologist, assumed that their son would follow in their footsteps and carve out a successful career in France. But, Tsvi decided to take a different path.
Tsvi came to Israel for the first time as an army volunteer on the Sar-El program. The three weeks he spent in the army, living with soldiers his own age and learning about Israel completely changed his life.
He returned home determined to make aliyah. However, Tsvi promised his parents that he would complete his university education first.
In the summer of 2002, Tsvi came on the Jewish Agency for Israel's Magen David Adom (MDA) Overseas Ambulance Volunteer Program in memory of Yochai Porat. "Being a MDA volunteer with Israelis, assisting the sick and wounded, manning emergency stations, and actually saving lives connected me to Israel in a way that no other experience could," says Tsvi passionately.
This passion turned into even more action, as Tsvi went back to France and became an ardent activist for bringing young French Jewish adults to Israel. He joined the Jewish Agency's Aliyah 2000 Ambassador Team, speaking continually at aliyah fairs and events. Tsvi and his friends created a website for MDA, and brought nine new participants to the program in one summer.
On June 4th, 2004 Tsvi received his MA in engineering. On July 15th, he came to Israel, going directly to the Jewish Agency's Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem.
"I heard that this was the best ulpan for graduates and young professionals," says Tsvi. "It is a great place with a warm, supportive atmosphere and wonderful teachers."
Tsvi is living at Ulpan Etzion with motivated new immigrants like himself from all over the world. He is learning to speak Hebrew fluently and is preparing to take his place as a proud, Israeli citizen. While he continues to volunteer with MDA and the Civil Guard, Tsvi's next step is the Israeli Army, which he will join upon completing the ulpan.
"I am finally making my dream come true."
"The support we received from our "At Home, Together" family was invaluable."
In beautifully spoken Hebrew, Hanan Elkayim, age 39, explains why he, his wife Doralice and their three children made aliyah from Paris in January 2003. Owning his own salon, Hanan was a successful businessman and well-known hairdresser. When his shop was ruined with graffiti and his son's non-Jewish friend was told to keep away from their family, he knew where he wanted to raise his family. For Hanan, a man with a traditional Jewish background, it was unacceptable to live in the shadow of anti-Semitism.
Hanan and his family stayed for two-months at a Jewish Agency absorption center, which he compares to living on a kibbutz. "We enjoyed living with olim from all over the world." They found a supportive network of friends, many from France, and decided to purchase a home in Ashdod. Their children, ages six, five, and two are well adjusted in school and gaining rapid fluency in Hebrew.
But it is the Jewish Agency's "Babayit Bayachad-At Home, Together" program, which pairs volunteer veteran immigrant and native Israeli families with new immigrant families that has had the greatest impact on Hanan and his family. They were paired with Amir Amar, a successful lawyer and his family, who were warm, supportive and instrumental in helping them in all their new ventures in Israel.
Hanan and Doralice are both ambitious, hardworking and imbued with the entrepreneurial spirit. After working for someone else, Hanan is now managing his own hair salon in Ashdod. Doralice, an artist, has successfully opened her own studio.
Hanan and Doralice were determined to come to Israel in order to raise a proud Jewish family. They are changing the course of their lives, as well as the lives of their extended family - Hanan's parents are planning to move to Israel - and setting an example on how to successfully make aliya.
Hanan will not forget the support he received from his "At Home, Together" family, and one day he and Doralice will most likely be the volunteers rather than the beneficiaries in this dynamic program.
"The journey of the Ethiopian people to Israel is a miracle…. But I know that if I don't use all my strength to get an education, I will never rise to my potential in this society."
Yael Azala was born in a small village in Ethiopia. One of six children, she and her family began the long, treacherous journey to Israel twenty years ago. On the trek to Sudan, Yael's family spent months in a refugee camp infested with disease, and her mother and infant brother both died.
In 1984, Yael and her family arrived in Israel, to the Jewish Agency's Absorption Center in Nazareth. Yael's father tragically died a year after their arrival, and Yael was sent to a boarding school.
Yael was a very bright student. Her brothers and sisters took care of her, but financial worries continually plagued the family. Upon completion of high school, Yael served in the National Service program, where she volunteered for the Organization for Educational Advancement for Ethiopian Students.
Yael was determined to receive a higher education, and after completing the academic preparatory program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, she was accepted for her BA studies at Hebrew University. She has chosen to major in Middle East studies.
However, Yael has no parents to support her, and although her tuition was paid for by the Student Authority, which receives support from the Jewish Agency, she was unable to pay for her living expenses. Yael took a job at the university library in order to offset her expenses, but this was not enough.
Yael was forced to take a leave of absence in order to work and save money for returning to her studies. "The University is my ticket forward in Israeli society," says Yael.
Yael has a good chance to succeed. However, she needs the support to be able to rent an apartment, pay her bills and buy food, while she attends University. Without this assistance, her future, once bright before her, may well turn dark.
In order to provide direct immediate assistance to motivated, determined immigrant students such as Yael, the Jewish Agency recently established the Fund for New Immigrant Students Alone in Israel. There are 4,000 new immigrant students like Yael from all over the world who are struggling to put themselves through college in their new homeland.
A contribution of $1,800 will support one lone immigrant student's living expenses for one year. 4,000 lone immigrant students need your support.
A contribution of $3,500 will connect 50 new immigrant families with 50 veteran Israeli families (including social activities) for one year.
A contribution of $60,000 will train 1,000 volunteers.
A donation of $2,000 will enable one student to attend Ulpan Etzion.
A contribution of $5,500 per year will support one ATIDIM student.
A contribution of $200 will support one lone soldier's living expenses for one month.
A contribution of $2400 will support one lone soldier's living expenses for one year.
2,500 immigrant soldiers need your support.
**The Jewish Agency for Israel supports immigrant soldiers alone in Israel (in conjunction with the Friends of the IDF's support for non-immigrant lone soldiers).
Invite someone like Tova, Alon, Marina, Tsvi, Hanan or Yael to speak in your community. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For further information contact:
Liaison to Foreign Press
The Jewish Agency for Israel