Tebeka: FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

What does “Tebeka” mean?

Tebeka means “advocate for justice” or “lawyer” in Amharic, the language most Ethiopian Jews speak.

When and how did Tebeka start?

Tebeka was started by Israel’s first Ethiopian Israeli attorney, Itzik Dessie, in 2000. He worked with other professionals and volunteers in an effort to provide services that were clearly missing.

What’s the history of Ethiopian Jews, in Israel and in Ethiopia?

Jews lived in Ethiopia peacefully for thousands of years. They lived mainly in the northern and northwestern regions of the country, and sometimes lived in villages that were exclusively Jewish, and sometimes lived in villages that were not. For more history and pictures of this extraordinary community, please visit the archives of the American Association for Ethiopian Jews, at https://sites.google.com/site/aaejarchivesonline/.

When did Ethiopian Jews come to Israel?

Ethiopian Jews first came to Israel very early—even before there was a state of Israel! With that having been said, most members of the community came during Operation Moses (1984) or Operation Solomon (1991). About 40% of Ethiopian Israelis today were born in Israel.

How many Ethiopian Israelis are there? What percentage of the population are they?

It’s hard to say definitively, but there are about 130,000-140,000 Ethiopian Israelis today, who make up 1.5-2% of Israel’s population.

Why do Ethiopian Israelis need help?

Lots of immigrant groups need help adjusting to life in Israel—there are groups for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, from France, from the United States/Canada, from Australia and more. Moving to the only Jewish democracy, moving to the Middle East, speaking Hebrew and figuring out  how everything works in Israel is a challenge.

It’s a particular challenge for Ethiopian Israelis, who often look different than non Ethiopian Israelis, and who may come from a background that was more agricultural and less industrial. Many Ethiopian Israelis knew how to read and write before they arrived, but there were others who had never seen a mirror, never owned a pair of shoes, never ridden in an elevator, etc.

The community made a drastic adjustment over a period of hours, and the process of acclimation to Israel continues—which is why Tebeka is so important.

What does Tebeka do to help?

Tebeka’s programs work in two ways: provision of essential legal services, and building a new generation of leaders. Tebeka receives hundreds of emails, phone calls and visits from people seeking legal help each year. We cannot and do not wish to replace the state in providing legal services to clients who cannot afford them in routine matters. As a result, all clients are given initial advice on their problem, in Amharic if needed, by Tebeka staff. Staff are available to explain the legal process and provide initial consultations.

Clients who can be handled by Israel’s Legal Aid Services or another partner of Tebeka’s are then referred there, with Tebeka staff working closely with the Legal Aid services to monitor the case and provide support as needed. Tebeka formed a special partnership with Legal Aid Services in 2012, which allows us to continue to be involved as needed with cases they are handling. Tebeka represents clients in cases of discrimination or with special interest for the Ethiopian community from start to finish, and has represented clients with employment concerns, discrimination in housing, public transportation, unnecessary removal of children from their homes, and more.

Tebeka also operates several leadership development and rights awareness programs in partnership with other organizations, giving young people tools for success through high-level mentorship, paid internships providing professional skills training, community rights awareness programs and more.

These programs range from an intensive mentorship program for law students run in partnership with the attorneys of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries to Youth for Justice, a unique program aimed at teaching young people about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, to a paid internship program allowing students to hone their professional skills without also having to find lucrative work to support their families. For more information, please see our project pages.

What can I do to help?

Great question, we’re glad you asked! The most important thing to know is that Tebeka is fully, 100% donor supported. That means that every dollar that we raise helps us build a stronger Israel by providing essential services to Ethiopian Israelis. To make a donation, tax-deductible in the US, click here. Our budget for 2014 is about $650,000—so every little bit counts!

If you’re having a birthday celebration, a bar mitzvah, or a wedding, consider asking people to make gifts to Tebeka to end discrimination in Israel!  You’ll be helping spread the word about our important work and helping other people to give.

You can also like our Facebook pages in Hebrew or English, sign up for our monthly newsletter or consider becoming a volunteer. 

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