Teaching the next generation

Photo: Vadim Daniel

by Habtnesh Melku

I was born in Ethiopia in the province of Gondar, where most of the Ethiopian Jewish people lived. I grew up there with my nine siblings in a very Orthodox Jewish family. My parents were self-employed and worked very hard to raise 10 children. My father was a farmer and a blacksmith; my mother was an embroidery artist and house wife. In Ethiopia from grade one to university, education was free, but if children went to school it meant they couldn’t work and parents still had to pay for books, supplies and clothes. Still, my parents managed to send us to school.

Shortly after my graduation from high school, my family heard from relatives that some people had left Ethiopia to Sudan on foot, where they took a plane to Israel. That is when I, my brother, my nephews and cousins decided to leave and seek a better life in Israel. We packed (food only) and left in a group of 95 to reach the refugee camps of Sudan- no cars, no buses, no trucks; it was all on foot. We walked during the day and rested for about an hour or two. We then continued throughout the entire evening until it became dark. If the night was lit by the moon, we would keep walking until it was too hot to walk. During that time, we slept for two to three hours during the day. We walked 16 hours a day over mountains, in valleys and through the deserts of Ethiopia for two weeks. Upon reaching the border, the Sudanese soldiers asked us to camp for three days until they could transfer us to the refugee camp. Life was not easy in the camp. Food and water were strictly rationed. I decided to stay in the refugee camp and volunteer for two years. We prepared food three times a day in the open desert and washed clothes for the others until they were ready to go to Israel. I could not leave knowing that the people were suffering and dying while waiting to go. But then the Sudanese government stopped letting people go to Israel. Some of us had to go through the Red Cross and ended up coming to Canada with help from the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society.

As the first generation here, I came with nothing. But now, I am happily married and have three beautiful girls; an amazing family. I work and provide them with the necessities. Besides that, I don’t earn enough to send them to private schools. I didn’t understand at first when my friends told me that Jewish schools are private in Montreal. It was a real surprise to me, since back home, we didn’t pay for education; it was always free. So my expectations were that if you were Jewish, you just go to a Jewish school for free. When I found out how much it cost for one child to attend, I asked my friends ‘Where could I go to receive tuition assistance?’ That’s where Federation CJA and the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre came to help. They really make a difference.

To the Jewish people of Montreal; you are the foundation beneath the Federation CJA. I would like to thank you for your donations to the organization, because I am one of many parents who receive tuition assistance for my children’s Jewish education. It covers from 50 to 60% of the total cost of the Jewish day schools every year for my kids. I am grateful to live within the Montreal Jewish community. If not for the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre and Federation CJA, I would not be able to send my children to Jewish schools. They wouldn’t learn Hebrew, the history and culture of the Jewish people in the world, and mostly the values and worth of Jewish traditions and Torah.

I am determined to keep my kids in the Jewish schools; I wouldn’t have made it without the support from everyone I know in the schools, the synagogue, individuals and friends in the community. Thank you so much for your aid in the past and present.

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