On November 30th the Modern Hebrew program at Harvard hosted an “Israeli Dinner” that was funded by the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Harvard Hillel. All of the students in the program were present along with guests from the Harvard community, about 50 people in total.
The guest of honor was Dr. Yarden Fanta-Vagenshtein. Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein was born in a village in Ethiopia. It took her and her family approximately one year to arrive in Israel after a long journey through the Sudan desert. She left Ethiopia at the age of 11, never having been to school (she watched her family’s livestock). When she arrived in Israel, she did not know how to read or write in any language and did not speak Hebrew. Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein, who started school at the age of 14, achieved a doctorate in Science and Technology in Education from Tel Aviv University. The topic of her thesis was "The Effect of Transition from an Agrarian to a Knowledge-based Society on Technological Literacy among Ethiopian Immigrants in Israel." She was the first Ethiopian woman to obtain a PhD in Israel.
She is now continuing research in her field of discipline at Harvard University as a post doctoral student, studying questions of immigration and the ways to bridge the cultural gap for newcomers. She is interested in the question of how people move from developing countries to modern society and manage their new lives. She tries to find out in her research how a state can help those people who come with a different kind of knowledge, not having radio, television, newspapers or schools; and how they have to adjust to their new surroundings and to learn everything from the beginning.
Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein shared her amazing life story with the students and said, “Never give up on your dreams. It can be done and achieved.”
The evening was a great success thanks to both the personal inspiring story and the good food. The students were highly involved in the talk and asked many questions, especially on the issue of motivation and drive. Dr. Fanta-Vagenshtein's presentation was in both Hebrew and English to enable beginner Hebrew students to participate and to observe more advanced students participate fully in Hebrew.