Tova Belete was born in Ethiopia in 1990. Her family lived in a small village there until 1991, when they immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Solomon.
Even though she immigrated at a very young age, adapting to life in a new country was difficult for Tova. She often felt how different her family's background and culture were from the predominant culture in Israel. Watching her father struggle with language and cultural barriers, as well as with financial burdens, convinced her that successful integration into Israeli society was of the utmost importance.
Tova started working while she was still in high school, in order to help support her family. But thanks to her hard work and persistence she was able to graduate high school. Tova then completed her national service, as a healthcare worker in the southern town of Netivot, although she had to take some time off for the birth of her son, El-Yada.
These days, Tova is back in school. She is working towards a Bachelor's Degree in management and industrial control at Sapir Academic College. Community service is still an integral part of her life, too. She finds time in between classes and raising her son, who is now four, to volunteer with an organization for at-risk children.
In recognition of her academic potential and her ongoing commitment to the community, HIAS Israel awarded Tova a scholarship, one of the 53 awards it handed out in December.
The HIAS Israel Scholarship Program for Student Olim is rather unique, as scholarships go. Its winners are olim, Jews from all across the globe who have chosen to make their home in Israel. They are pursuing degrees at all levels, in a wide variety of fields. The scholarships awarded are also uniquely flexible, tailored to the unique needs of their awardees—student olim.
Olim face unique challenges, according to Sivan Carmel, director of HIAS Israel. “Many of them come to Israel alone, leaving behind family in other countries. They don’t have the natural support network that most students have. What makes this award special is that while it helps them financially, it also gives them that feeling that we are their support. We become their network.”
The scholarship recipients were selected by a team of 11 judges, all olim themselves, out of hundreds of applicants. This year’s winning students came to Israel from more than a dozen countries, including Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Spain, France, Argentina, Brazil, Morocco and Iran.
“Unlike other scholarships, they can take this money and do what they want with it,” says Carmel. The $2,500 award is enough to cover roughly 95% of a year’s tuition at a public college. It can be used for tuition, or to allow the olim to work less during the school year. Especially for winners who are single parents, “it gives them the ability to focus more on their studies and worry a little less about supporting their family.” HIAS Israel has offered this award every year for more than three decades. A scholarship recipient from 3 years ago contacted them recently. The award helped him finish law school and he’s now using his legal skills to assist asylum seekers.
The most recent class of awardees gathered at the ZOA House in Tel Aviv on December 15, 2015, for a special ceremony, where 53 scholarships were granted. The event was organized by scholarship program coordinator (and office manager) Loren David, who orchestrates everything from the initial applications, to recruiting judges. She also has the happy task of calling the winning olim to let them know they have won a scholarship. While there are a range of reactions, from surprise to relief, David says most are simply thrilled.
More information on the HIAS Israel Scholarship Program for Student Olim is available (in Hebrew) via HIAS Israel.