From Lone Immigrant to Top Nurse: How UJA Scholarships Changed Everything

Today, she is a top nurse at Wolfson Medical Centre in Bat Yam, one of UJA’s partner cities in Israel. She has a Master’s degree and a bright future ahead. But this wasn’t always the case for Atsede Aseffa—not until a UJA-funded program changed her life. When she first came to Israel from Ethiopia, alone at age 11, Atsede was going in a different direction. She met her husband right after graduating high school, had two kids, and then divorced not long after. “I had to work the jobs I could,” says Atsede, “but I wanted more—I wanted something my kids could look up to and aspire to.” Her dream was to become a nurse. But it wasn’t a dream within reach.

Until the most unlikely of encounters—with the wife of Bat Yam’s former mayor. Atsede was working as a cleaner at the time and struck up a conversation with the mayor’s wife. “She saw my handwriting on a note, complimented my penmanship, and wondered why I was working as a cleaner. She wondered: don’t you want to study? Of course I did, but I couldn’t afford to stop working. She then asked me, would you like to be a nurse? Yes, that’s my dream! Then she said, let me see what I can do.”

A couple of days later, Atsede got the invitation of a lifetime: to join the UJA-funded Bat Yam Nursing Scholarship Program. It’s an intensive two-and-a-half-year vocational course that accredits new Olim (immigrants) in nursing. A strategic partnership between Israel’s Ministry of Health, the Municipality of Bat Yam, Bat Yam’s Wolfson Medical Center, and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, the program offers Olim an opportunity to better integrate into Israeli society and attain social and economic independence.

The program holds no punches. Not all who start make it through to the end. “Can you handle it?” the program recruiter asked Atsede. She handled it and more. Though she started with her cohort six months into the program, Atsede was one of a smaller group that graduated. She did so while supporting her kids through cost-of-living stipends from UJA. “We were very hand-to-mouth in those years, and we couldn’t have gotten through it without help,” says Atsede.

She proved so adept at her new craft, Atsede received a job offer from Wolfson not long after graduating. She joined the emergency room department, an extraordinarily prestigious appointment. Her nursing certification qualified her for an undergraduate degree, so she earned her degree—with help from another UJA scholarship. Then, she went on to get her graduate degree—again with support from a UJA scholarship. It’s been an incredible journey for Atsede and her family—from lone 11-year-old immigrant to one of Israel’s top nurses—made possible every step of the way through the investment of UJA donors. Atsede isn’t the only one either. Six other nurses went on to earn their academic degrees after completing the vocational training program, empowered to do so by UJA scholarships.

“UJA made all the difference,” she says, “and ensured I could continue supporting my family while undergoing all this training and education. There was so much comfort in knowing the Toronto Jewish community was behind me.” Behind Atsede, and behind her kids, who were the inspiration for her to even begin pursuing this dream.

“All the years in the program have given me so much confidence to move forward in my career,” says Atsede.

“My kids are now at the stage where they are figuring out what they want to pursue in their lives. I don’t know what effect my experiences will have on them. But there’s a big difference between struggling as a family, and watching your mom invest tons of energy and love into what she does.”