Exporting Our Culture of Opportunity
Ethiopian Jews have immigrated to Israel since the 1970s, but their integration (or shiluvim) into the economic and social fabric of the larger society has been slow. Today, 5,500 Ethiopian Jews life in Haifa, Israel's third largest city, comprising 2 percent of the total population. But as recently as five years ago, only 40 percent of the working age population had jobs.
Last month, I joined members of the Shiluvim project run by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Boston in Haifa. About 20 Ethiopian Israeli professionals comprise the Shiluvim staff and through their efforts, 85 percent of working age Ethiopian Jews are working today.
But challenges persist. Many Ethiopians are having trouble finding permanent jobs with benefits and career advancement opportunities, in part because it is common practice for Israeli employers to use temporary agencies to hire low-to-middle skill workers.
Leaders from JVS Boston (a workforce development organization BIDMC partners with to provide ESOL other classes) have been working with Shiluvim over the last few years, and suggested the organization work to establish more direct relationships with employers, as a way to connect Ethiopians to permanent jobs and help them access promotional opportunities.
During my visit, I collaborated with Shiluvim leaders, JCRC staff and JVS leaders to meet with the three major hospitals in the Haifa area and explore how to better connect Ethiopian Israelis to jobs in the hospitals. My role was to share BIDMC's perspective as a hospital employer with the Haifa hospitals.
During these meetings, I spoke about BIDMC's goals of having a workforce that reflects the population that we serve. I also talked about how, as Boston's third largest employer, we partner with local community-based organizations to help community members find jobs at BIDMC. I mentioned that a significant percentage of our employees are recent immigrants to the US, and how they are an important part of our team of patient care. I also spoke about the many programs - such as ESOL, the Employee Career Initiative, and the Pipeline programs - that BIDMC offers to employees to help them advance their careers here.
Our meetings with the Haifa hospitals were a success. Many opportunities for the hospitals and Shiluvim to collaborate were identified. Our group continues to meet via teleconference to make sure the new relationships are nurtured.
I'm very proud of the culture of opportunity that exists at BIDMC, and I was delighted to be able to share our best practices to help people over 5000 miles away attain a shared goal: economic opportunity for all.
(Joanne Pokaski is BIDMC's Director of Workforce Development. She pictured in the middle with Gaddy Melacko, Shiluvim and Sandra Krumholz, Jewish Community Relations Council on her left and Jerry Rubin and Kira Khazatsky, JVS and Ehud Jagnau, Shiluvim on her right).