Hadassah has been described as an “island of calm in a sea of chaos”.  That has never been more apparent than in recent weeks as Israel confronts an Ethiopian community enraged by the tragic death of a 19-year-old teenager, shot by an off-duty policeman under controversial circumstances. 

It is tearing apart the social fabric of Israel, at a time when the country can least afford it.

Seemingly under the radar, the Hadassah-Hebrew University Henrietta Szold School of Nursing has been involved in an innovative program to train young Ethiopians.  It has been so successful that the program, known as Achotenu (Hebrew for ‘Our Sister’), will expand to include other marginalised communities in Israel.

In contrast to the sense of communal hurt felt by Ethiopians, and leveraged by others to reflect their own feelings of alienation, Achotenu is building a future for the community in partnership with Hadassah.  The approach mirrors the hospital’s record of achievement over more than a century: through consultation, innovation, and a committed philosophy of embracing everyone without pre-condition.           

Hadassah Australia is supporting Achotenu by launching a Nursing scholarship to provide a pathway for young Ethiopian adults to enter Hadassah’s School of Nursing.  We are raising funds for 20 scholarships for the four year program.

I’m thrilled to acknowledge the generosity of Daniel Weinstock, a member of our National Committee, who asked family and friends to donate to Achotenu in lieu of gifts for his 70th birthday.  We are well on our way to awarding the first scholarship!

There is background to the program that needs to be understood.  One of the reasons Ethiopians and other minority groups are under-represented in academic achievement has little to do with their ability.  But this is not reflected in the statistics.   

Ethiopian Israelis run into the cultural bias implicit in the Psychometric Entrance Test, which screens applicants preparing to enter higher education in Israel. With Ethiopian Israelis typically scoring 25 percent lower than the general Jewish population, Israel’s psychometric test is an impassable barrier for the majority of the youth of this community of 135,000.   Only 11 percent of 22- to 35-year-old Ethiopian Israelis have an undergraduate degree, compared with 42 percent of all Israeli Jews of the same age.

Achotenu was first brought to Hadassah in 2016.  Significantly, the students were accepted without the requisite psychometric exam.  Not only are they proving to be successful students, they are also proving to be great nurses!

Hadassah Australia realised that we had an opportunity to assist the integration through the hospital’s proactive support of Achotenu.  And Australians have ‘skin in the game’.  Over the years, we have given generously to the airlifting and resettlement of Ethiopian Jewry, and we recognise that not only is the integration multi-generational, it’s a key to the economic development of the Ethiopian community and to Israel more broadly.

Nursing is part of Hadassah’s DNA.  Henrietta Szold, the founder and inspiration behind the Hadassah story, introduced westernised medicine to Palestine at the turn of last century, through the agency of nursing.  

Many young Ethiopian-Israeli men and women express a strong desire to become hospital nurses, which is seen as a respected and well-paid career.  We see it as our mission to support their ambitions.

Ron Finkel AM

President, Hadassah Australia