Dr. Nigist Mengesha awarded prestigious Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education

June 6, 2010

Ethiopian-Israeli social activist Dr. Nigist Mengesha. Courtesy of Nigist Mengesha.

On June 6, 2010, Ethiopian-Israeli social activist Dr. Nigist Mengesha was awarded the Samuel Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She was selected in recognition of her broad contributions in the field of education in Israel. Dr. Mengesha said that she was “honored to receive the Rothberg Prize,” asserting, “Education is the key to success. But our work is far from over."

Mengesha was born in a small village near Gondar, Ethiopia. She worked as a social worker at the prison authority there until 1984, when she immigrated to Israel through Operation Moses. Mengesha received her BA in social work from Bar Ilan University, her MA in social work from the Hebrew University, and her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Sussex in England. Her doctoral dissertation investigated social-educational mediation among Ethiopian-Israelis in Israel’s education system. She also graduated from the Mandel School for Educational Leadership.

The activist saw her children struggle to adjust to Israel’s inflexible school system, prompting her to work for greater cultural awareness in the Israeli educational system and to empower Ethiopian-Israelis through education and mentorship. In 1996, Mengesha co-founded the FIDEL Association and served as its first director. The organization trained Ethiopian Israelis to be social and educational mediators in 140 schools throughout Israel. As she told the Jerusalem Post, “I knew from the very beginning that any work to better the community must be done hand-in-hand with the community itself.”

In 2001, Mengesha represented Israel at the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa. In 2002, she helped found the Ethiopian National Project (ENP), a partnership between the Israeli government, the Jewish diaspora, and the Ethiopian Israeli community. She served as the ENP’s director-general between 2003 and 2011.

Mengesha also worked for the Israeli Ministry of Welfare, served as project coordinator for Ethiopian organizations at SHATIL, and sat on the Board of Directors of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and served as director of the department of education at the Rosh Ha’ayin Municipality. In early 2021, she returned to the FIDEL Association, serving as its Executive Director.

In addition to the Rothberg Prize, Dr. Mengesha has received a Leadership Prize from Bar Ilan University and an award from the Open University. She recently published her book, Here I Am, which details the rich experiences of her life on the road to success in Israel.



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Jewish Women's Archive. "Dr. Nigist Mengesha awarded prestigious Rothberg Prize for Jewish Education." (Viewed on April 25, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/jun/06/2010/dr-nigist-mengesha-awarded-prestigious-rothberg-prize-jewish-education>.