As a young girl growing up in a remote Ethiopian village, Dr. Yarden Fanta was not afforded the privileges and religious freedoms that are sometimes taken for granted in western democracies like Israel and the United States.
At age 11, Fanta and her family fled Ethiopia and trekked more than 450 miles across the desert toward refugee camps of Sudan. After spending a year there, she and her family were airlifted to a place she had only heard about as a young girl – Israel.
“My family always talked about coming to Jerusalem,” Fanta shares. “I never saw any pictures, but even as a young girl I imagined a better life. In Ethiopia, Jewish children couldn’t go to school, and from the time I was five years old this is all I ever wanted to do.”
Initially life in Israel wasn’t easy for Fanta and the other Ethiopian Jews. As rural villagers emigrating to a modern, technologically advanced country, Fanta often felt overwhelmed and lost.
“Coming to Israel I felt like a newborn – I had to learn everything anew, even as basic as turning on the lights. Nothing was familiar,” she says.
Fanta attended school at the age of 14, learning for the first time how to read and write. “It took a while until I felt okay, but I would tell myself that if Israel and the Jewish community around the world worked hard to bring me to Israel, now it’s my turn to make the effort,” explains Fanta.