Israel is home to approximately 138,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent. Of those who arrived in the major immigration waves of the mid 1980s and early 1990s, many endured months and even years-long journeys by foot across the desert, placement in refugee camps, illness, murder, disappearance of family members, and rape. Decades after their arrival in Israel, 70% of Ethiopians have no steady income, 6.2% of their students drop out of school (double the national average rate), nearly 50% of parents can’t speak Hebrew and 28% have PTSD (the national average is approximately 9%). Government programming for this population has been scarce to non-existent, particularly in the area of mental health.

With initial financial support from Israel’s social security administration, METIV has, since 2007, stepped up to fill the gap in publicly available psychosocial services to this community in need. Guided by the expertise of clinical social worker Asher Mequnnte Rahamim, METIV has worked with well over 1000 adults in need, through a variety of programs and therapeutic approaches, in all significant Ethiopian Israeli communities, including Jerusalem, Ashdod, and Kiryat Gat. We have nearly 50 groups of 15-20 adults each for series of meetings focusing on psycho-education and resilience awareness and training, and offer individual therapy.

We also work on the provider level. We are leading ongoing trainings for the Ministry of Health, and in January 2014 we published a booklet for mental health providers working with the Ethiopian Community, commissioned by the National Insurance Institute, and organized a milestone conference. Called “From Ethiopia to Jerusalem: Community Empowerment and Trauma Therapy,” the event drew over 300 attendees and marked a milestone in Israel’s apprehension of the specific needs of the Ethiopian community.

In Jerusalem, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and Rishon Lezion we developed therapeutic services for the Ethiopian community, increasing awareness of trauma and resilience, training professionals and establishing partnerships with municipalities to take more responsibility for this population.

A central element of our work with the Ethiopian community has involved an innovative narrative documentation project. This project is known as the STEPS Home Program, and involved recording life history interviews with nearly 100 people. These interviews retold participants’ experiences during their immigration journeys from Ethiopia and their challenging arrival and acclimation to Israeli society. The documentation allows not just for the processing of traumatic experiences, but also sharing these stories with children and families as a legacy, and a means toward overcoming a difficult history.

(Image credit: Harvey Sapir Photography Pikiwiki Israel)