The kids from Hadassah Youth Village, second generation to what’s commonly called “the desert generation” of Ethiopian Olim, just got back from a very emotional trip to Ethiopia. Many of them are still struggling with questions of self-identity, belonging, and the generational gaps between them and their parents. For many of them, it was so much more than just a cool, feel-good trip – it was an emotional journey to find out more about their roots and where their parents came from – both literally and figuratively.

How it all began
In the last few months, once a week, a group of 10th and 11th graders have been meeting in the Hadassah Youth Village to talk about some common issues: questions of self-identity, belonging, and the generational gaps between them and their parents. Many of them dreamt of a trip to Ethiopia, so they can see with their own eyes where their parents were raised, and try to gain a better understanding of their roots and origins.

Much has been said of the difficulties of the first generation of Olim from Ethiopia to assimilate in Israeli culture. In recent years, professionals and researchers realize that the second generation of olim, most of them born in Israel or brought to it at a very early age, deal with some very real problems themselves.

Paradoxically, teenagers from Ethiopia who immigrate to Israel do better at school than the second generation of Olim from Ethiopia. The second generation kids and teens are dealing with issues of identity and belonging. They’ve never been to Ethiopia and they feel no connection to it, but they often feel like strangers in Israel as well. Many of them are ashamed of their Ethiopian names and of their parents – their traditional clothes, their accents, their costumes. There are also generational gaps, a limited ability to communicate with their parents because of different languages spoken at home, and differences in mentality. This feeling of alienation – from themselves and their roots – is destructive, and trickles into many spheres of their lives.

In recent years, more and more groups of Ethiopian teenagers are going on “root trips”. From testimonies of teenagers and staffers who went to these trips, it is clear that the kids come back emotionally stronger, more connected to both Israel and their Ethiopian roots. For the first time, they understand what their families went through, and are more open and willing to hear about it from their parents.

Not another trip abroad
This is how one kid, who came back from such a trip, talked about it: “We came back to Israel a little different. Prouder, more mature, more appreciative. We understand our parents a little better, after seeing the enormity of the change they’ve had to go through.”

Another teen said: “I’ve never felt more connected to my past, and I’ve never felt so Israeli. Before this trip, I never spoke to my dad about Ethiopia. Today I understand that this is a big part of who he is, and probably a big part of who I am as well.”

Many of the kids who come back feel more emotionally connected not only to their past – but also to their future as Israelis. Thanks to donations by The Spirit of Israel, the kids from Hadassah went back to the villages where their parents were born and raised, visited old synagogues and other sites and most importantly – got to re-connect with their identities in a whole new way.