By: Yeshi Mengistu
Hello, everyone! I am very excited to share something special that I am about to experience. Next week, I will travel with CJP on Project Inspire to Kenya and Uganda, and my excitement is at an all-time high! I’m lucky to be part of this trip.
I have no doubt this is going to be an extraordinary opportunity. As someone who was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Israel, the experience of returning to Africa is special. While I was an undergraduate at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, I went on my first trip to Ethiopia through a course called “Christianity, Judaism and Islam in Ethiopia.” Returning to Africa, and specifically to Ethiopia, as an Israeli was a special experience because I felt almost home, even though my home is in Israel. Even so, the people of Ethiopia welcomed me, and it was a feeling that I will never forget. Now, I am about to return to this vast continent, which is so varied and rich, but unfortunately the prevailing image is usually negative, deficient and one-dimensional. People look at the African countries as a single entity, even though the continent has over 50 countries and much diversity.
On this trip, I will be traveling after nearly a year working at Northeastern University Hillel as an Israel Fellow on behalf of The Jewish Agency. Among other things, my job is to connect Jewish students to Israel and address unfair and inaccurate criticisms of Israel.
When I heard about a trip to Kenya and Uganda with Project Inspire, I knew I wanted to take part. Israel, North America and Africa are three components of my identity. Israel is a dream come true for my family, my community—Beta Israel—and many other Jews from all over the world who dreamed of returning to Jerusalem, or Zion. Israel, despite being a small and young country, is a major player in the world of international development and has an important presence in Kenya, Uganda and other countries in East Africa, as well as around the world. I am excited to see, hear and learn about the work of Israeli nonprofit organizations like MASHAV, Project TEN – The Jewish Agency for Israel, Brit Olam and more.
In the past year, I have engaged in active discussion about Israel, living as community, Jewish culture and identity with the wonderful Northeastern students. Working with North American Jewry in Boston both raises questions about identity and strengthens my connection to the Jewish community. My encounter with Jews in Boston has sharpened my understanding of creating a strong Jewish community for the young, local and global Jewish generation.
On this trip we will meet other African-Jewish communities, both in Nairobi and in Kampala, which makes me very happy. I am excited to meet other groups of Jews and share a part of their story, to share the diversity and beauty of Jews all over the world.
Project Inspire’s motto is “Get inspired – Inspire others.” I feel fortunate to participate in this trip together with young American Jews who, like me, want to investigate and deepen their knowledge of one of the more beautiful values of Judaism—tikkun olam. I am also excited to see the meaningful work of Israeli nonprofit organizations, meet other African Jewish communities, be inspired and share what I learn with my communities in Boston. I have no doubt I will be inspired, and very much hope to inspire others.
Yeshi Mengistu graduated from Ben-Gurion University with a B.A in politics and government and a B.A. in African studies, and was active in the feminist campus organization. Outside campus, as a graduate student from The Israeli School of Humanitarian Aid, she volunteered at the Center for International Migration and Integration, assisting migrants and asylum seekers with their rights. After graduating from the Nachshon Pre-Military Academy program at Kibbutz Shoval, she served in the IDF Education Corps as an instructional and training commander at a boot camp for non-Hebrew speaking new immigrant soldiers. She is currently working at Northeastern University Hillel.