Race in Israel: Weber Students Learn the Ethiopian Story

By July 30, 2020August 5th, 2020COMMUNITY, GLOBAL JEWRY

This spring, just as Americans were rising up to protest the killing of George Floyd, Michal Ilai, who heads Israel Programs at Weber was preparing an intense month of high-level Hebrew learning for her summer school students. Given the protests, she felt it was a great opportunity to engage her Hebrew students in issues of race and diversity in Israel.

“With demonstrations occurring in cities around the world, it seemed like a great opportunity to talk about racism and diversity in the Israeli community. I reached out to my long-time educational partner Harel Felder at Dror Israel, an organization that is at the forefront of diversity education in Israel and asked him to help my students learn about race relations in Israel,” Michal Ilai said.

Harel Felder immediately thought of his colleague Liel, an Ethiopian immigrant who runs Dror programs for the Ethiopian community and invited her to speak with the students and share her personal story all that she’s doing to lift up the lives of Ethiopian Israelis.

Seth Shapiro, a rising Weber senior said of the experience, “Liel’s story expanded our minds and brought a new significance to many current world issues and even some of the more local issues. Listening to people like that speak of their experiences broadens horizons.”

Another rising senior in the class, Carly Spandorfer, said, “During our month-long summer course, we learned about and met many different types of people living in Israel. As we are seeing issues of race relations here in America, I feel it was absolutely necessary to discuss race relations in Israel. Learning about Ethiopian Jewry was particularly meaningful for me because we’re so used to speaking about Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews — it was refreshing to hear about somebody who is Ethiopian and has a different story than many of us. It was very empowering to hear that despite struggles Liel faces in Israel due to her skin color, she is even more committed to her Zionism and to improving her country.”

Michal Ilai felt the partnership with Dror Israel was a success. “My hope for this lesson was that students would be able to analyze events with greater clarity and articulate their position about racial inequality both here and in Israel. I was glad to see both goals were achieved.”