Day 35: How my Jewish Identity was formed through Education – Yoni’s Story

I am the son of two Ethiopian-Jewish immigrants who made Toronto their home in the summer of 1988.

My parents have always told me that those first days in Toronto were extremely difficult. Some of the challenges my parents encountered included learning a new language, adjusting to our harsh Canadian winters, and even learning how to drink coffee on the go. However, my parents had something that not many immigrants had—and that, was the caring and loving members of our incredible Toronto Jewish community.


Whether it was connecting my father to job opportunities, or showing my mother the Kosher section at the grocery store, or inviting our growing family for those memorable Passover Seders— members of this great community undoubtedly eased the process of integration by taking those first steps alongside my parents.

As a child, I attended Robin’s Hebrew Academy (RHA), or as I knew it United Synagogue Day School (USDS). There, I learned the values of tolerance, teamwork, and courtesy. I began to learn about Jewish history and culture while nurturing a love and deep admiration for the State of Israel. But more importantly, I made lifelong friends and invaluable connections that would encourage me in everything that I did.

Upon graduating elementary school in 2008, I made the decision to continue my Jewish education at Tanenbaum CHAT Wallenberg Campus. For me, CHAT, represented a formative experience where both academia and Jewish life intersected, affording me the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally.

At CHAT, I began to cultivate my passion and interest in politics and global affairs. I ran for student council, hosted talent shows, and travelled with the CHAT delegation to New York City for the Yeshiva University Model United Nations competition. These experiences empowered me to believe in myself while learning the value of hard work and dedication. I developed my unique Ethiopian-Jewish identity that has defined who I am and what I stand for.

In 2012, I graduated from Tanenbaum CHAT and continued onto Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. There, I dedicated my time to creating an inclusive pro-Israel environment for Jewish students through philanthropic, educational, and social events. I joined Hillel’s Israel on Campus (IOC) group, where in my first year, I became a vocal member of the executive leadership. We also received strategic support from the Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs, also known as CIJA.

Throughout my first three years at Queen’s, I worked on awareness projects targeting the misinformation surrounding Israel while countering efforts to delegitimize and isolate the Jewish state on campus.

In my fourth and last year, I served as Vice President of Israel on Campus where I was responsible for presenting Israel’s cultural, societal, and political accomplishments through fun and informative events. As a Jewish leader on campus, I was committed to replicating the pro-Israel environment that I benefited from in high school, for our Jewish students and the greater Queen’s community.

We didn’t just focused on Jewish students. Other Jewish students and I were focused on building lasting relationships with non-Jewish students, clubs, and committees on campus to strengthen our voice.

It was the Jewish education at both Robin’s Hebrew Academy and Tanenbaum CHAT, and my Hillel experience on campus, that has shaped me into the twenty two year-old university graduate, Israel advocate, and Jewish leader I am today.

I graduated from Queen’s this past June.

Today, I live in Ottawa, and have the privilege to work for Israel’s Ambassador to Canada as his Director of Public Relations.

UJA changes lives. It certainly changed mine. Whether by stimulating my academic interests while affording me the opportunities to succeed both on and off campus. Or by building a community whose values are reflected in those individuals who gave an Ethiopian-Jewish couple the love and support they needed all those years ago.

Today, my parents are property owners and successful business people with two sons. My younger brother just started his third year at Queen’s and hopes to become a lawyer in the future.

Both of us, products of a well-established and greatly supported Jewish community, with UJA Federation at its center, that has taught us the importance of family, public service, and education.

Through UJA you can make the biggest impact on the issues you care about most. Make a gift to UJA today.

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