One Woman’s Brave Journey From Ethiopia to Israel

As a young girl growing up in a remote Ethiopian village, Dr. Yarden Fanta was not afforded the privileges and religious freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted in western democracies like Israel and the United States.

At age 11, Fanta and her family fled Ethiopia and trekked more than 450 miles across the desert toward refugee camps of Sudan. After spending a year there, she and her family were airlifted to a place she had only heard about as a young girl – Israel.

“My family always talked about coming to Jerusalem,” Fanta shares. “I never saw any pictures, but even as a young girl I imagined a better life. In Ethiopia, Jewish children couldn’t go to school, and from the time I was five years old this is all I ever wanted to do.”

Initially life in Israel wasn’t easy for Fanta and the other Ethiopian Jews. As rural villagers emigrating to a modern, technologically advanced country, Fanta often felt overwhelmed and lost.

“Coming to Israel I felt like a newborn – I had to learn everything anew, even as basic as turning on the lights. Nothing was familiar,” she says.

Fanta attended school at the age of 14, learning for the first time how to read and write. “It took a while until I felt okay, but I would tell myself that if Israel and the Jewish community around the world worked hard to bring me to Israel, now it’s my turn to make the effort,” explains Fanta.

The sense of community and her Jewish identity is what gave Fanta the strength and power to persevere and overcome tremendous obstacles. She became the first Ethiopian woman to earn a PhD in Israel and she completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Today, Fanta’s research focuses on immigrants’ adaptation and assimilation to modern societies. She also serves as a Director of Production and Partnerships at Jewish Arts Collaborative, runs a public speaking and career coach clinic and hosts a TV show called “Zoom In.”

“Through my experiences, I have learned that whatever challenges we may have, we can always ‘zoom in’ to ourselves and find our own inner GPS,” Fanta shares. “It’s what got me through all those years.”

Fanta will be sharing with teens and young adults her amazing life story of determination and resilience growing up as an immigrant in Israel as part of the Sue Glick Liebman Visiting Israel Scholar program, which is designed to educate and deepen our community’s relationship with the people and land of Israel.

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