Aschella & Dina: Living Parallel Lives

My Story from the CCD Mission

I never expected to be so personally affected by my recent trip on the UJC Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Israel. As a professional who has worked for the Jewish Community Federation for more than 4 years, I thought I knew the details of almost everything that the Federation supports - so I was not prepared to be so deeply moved by what I saw during the mission.  Day after day, I found myself connecting deeply with program beneficiaries and the talented and committed staff who make these programs run. It was on the third day, on our way to an Absorption Center for Ethiopian olim (those who emigrate to Israel) called Beit Canada Barnea that I had a defining moment.  A gorgeous young woman boarded our bus, wearing a bright yellow top and an even brighter smile.  I found myself stealing glances at her, wondering who she was.  And then she told us her story: Her name is Aschella.  Sixteen years ago, as a seven year old girl, she and her father, stepmother and stepbrothers made the arduous and difficult journey from Ethiopia to Israel.  The connection I felt to Aschella and her story was immediate.

Dina and Aschella

Dina and Aschella

You see, twenty years ago my parents, two grandmothers and I left St. Petersburg, Russia to make our journey to the United States.  Aschella went to Israel, I came to California, but both of our journeys were made possible by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the United Federations system.  As this charming, sweet young woman spoke of the hardship of trying to adjust to her new life in an unfamiliar country and the stepmother who demanded she play the role of obedient home-maker rather than studious young girl, I reflected on how much help and encouragement I received when I was an eight year old and a new immigrant.  So I knew exactly what Aschella was talking about when she described her decision to make a different life for herself, when she talked about the boarding school that helped set her on the right path, the Absorption Center where she was given a job and housing, the scholarship she received to attend Ashkelon College where she is now getting a Criminology degree. All of these programs are funded by organizations like the Jewish Community Federation and our JAFI and JDC partners, dedicated to backing just this sort of activity for so many people in Israel and elsewhere.  Just like all of you sponsored my family’s synagogue tuition, my day camp, and the Hebrew Free Loans we received when we were new to this country. Now Aschella works at the Beit Canada Barnea Absorption Center, mentoring seven and eight- year-olds who are undergoing their own unique and personal experiences of aliyah and immigration.  She is the role model for them that she never had herself.  As she said, “I did not have the support from my family growing up, but the doors of opportunity were opened to me when I went to a residential school.  Now, working with new immigrant girls at Beit Canada Barnea I want to help them like I was helped. I want to give them the will to succeed.”

That desire to get involved with the Jewish community really resonated with me.  Raising money for the Jewish Community Federation gives me an opportunity to give back, to share both Aschella’s and my story, and demonstrate the difference every donation makes.  I feel so privileged to have met Aschella, this young woman living a life parallel to mine, thousands of miles apart.  And I love working for the Jewish Community Federation where I help raise funds for programs that assist families like mine and Aschella’s. Aschella and I are going to have a strong connection for a very long time – both of us committed to changing lives and continuing a powerful cycle of giving back!

Dina Jacobs, Program & Campaign Manager, Women's Philanthropy


August 04, 2009


The Federation