Yemin Orde graduate, Yitzhak (Itzik) Dessie, is the first Ethiopian-Israeli to receive a law degree.
Itzik is credited with assisting generations of Ethiopian-Israelis through Tebeka, a nonprofit organization he created in 2000 that provides free legal assistance to thousands of Ethiopian immigrants a year. Itzik is well-known throughout Israel for his leadership in advocating for education and job opportunities for Ethiopian-Israelis. He is especially noted for his achievements in the fields of civil and human rights.
Tebeka is Amharic for “advocate of justice.”
From an ancient community to a modern society
Itzik’s story reflects an arduous path from the ancient communities of Ethiopia to the knowledge-based and technology-driven economy of Israel. He arrived alone, as a 13-year-old boy after making a seemingly-impossible 800-mile trek, at times on foot, from Ethiopia, north into Sudan and then a flight to Israel.
“I remember with excitement the way the asphalt felt to my lips when, like many others on my plane, I kissed the ground when we finally landed in Israel,” said Itzik. “I laugh remembering my first few years in this new country. Learning to fit in, to be Israeli was such a challenge.”
A short time later, he was welcomed at Yemin Orde Youth Village where he developed self-confidence, independence and leadership skills and learned to embrace and respect his Ethiopian cultural identity. “My time at Yemin Orde as a high school student was one of the happiest times of my life,” he said. “Yemin Orde will always be my home.”
After graduation, Dessie served in Israel’s army as the first Ethiopian combat medic. Following military service, he attended the University of Haifa and in 1993, was one of the first Ethiopian Israelis to attend its law school. In 2007, he received a scholarship to study for a Master’s degree in Law at the American University’s Washington College of Law, in Washington, D.C.
“I had to close many academic gaps and my Hebrew was not quite sufficient to study law,” Itzik said. “But, as I was taught at Yemin Orde, I worked hard.”
After completing his law degree, he interned at the Haim Zakok & Co. law firm in Tel Aviv. He opened a private practice in 1998 and was promptly inundated with Ethiopians in need of legal assistance. In 2000, he established Tebeka and served as its director until 2013. Also, in 2013, Itzik received the prestigious New Israel Fund UK Human Rights Award, an honor given to Israeli human rights activists.
Currently, he is studying for his J.S.D. degree (Doctorate in the Science of Law) at Bar Ilan University, an advanced law degree that will enable him to become a law professor and teach in one of Israel’s universities.
“It is a great privilege to count myself among the social entrepreneurs who chose to make use of their education and status to improve society,” said Itzik. “I feel privileged to be able to be a part of the change I wish to see.”