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Nicole Yoder- The Heart Behind ICEJ Aid

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11 Sep 2019
Nicole Yoder- The Heart Behind ICEJ Aid

When 22-year-old Nicole Yoder first stepped off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport in the early 1990s, she never imagined Israel would become her home. Nor could she have dreamed that more than 20 years later she would serve as Director of ICEJ Aid, a position she has held since 2006.

Nicole’s early years were marked by a rich spiritual heritage and an understanding of the importance of Israel in God’s redemptive plan. For example, her grandfather was censured in 1946 for preaching in support of the rebirth of a Jewish state of Israel, a biblical dream which came to prophetic fulfillment only two years later. Nicole’s personal interest was piqued as a preteen by the Sound of Music and Corrie Ten Boom’s story, which led to her avid investigation into events surrounding World War II and the Holocaust.

Years later, while writing her Master’s thesis on the challenges faced by Ethiopian olim (new immigrants to Israel), Nicole drew heavily on her own personal journey to Israel to create a deeper connection. As recounted in her thesis:

“I remember that final wrenching goodbye as I turned to walk towards the plane with tears streaming. I wasn’t leaving on a typical vacation trip with the expectation of returning home in a few weeks, bubbling with new experiences to share. No, this trip was different. At twenty-two years old, I was moving half-way around the world to a country I had never visited before, and I was going alone.”

“I had seen it on television often the previous year, as relentless media coverage of the Gulf War revealed a populace that kept gas masks at the ready in case of a chemical attack. A million anxious questions pulled at my heart. Would I be safe there? Understood? Accepted? How would I live? Though I knew with unswerving certainty as I boarded that El Al flight to Tel Aviv that God had moved me to go serve in Israel, it would take time before I fully understood my purpose there. Nor did I suspect then that this trip was essentially one-way. Since I am not Jewish and am not entitled to make aliyah, for me being in Israel long-term would require divine intervention.”

“Reflecting on this today, however, I realize that the same is true for the Jewish people or any other people. Those who settle in this land, which God has called his own (Lev. 25:23), are here only at His invitation and for the time He has purposed.”

Nicole’s experience echoes throughout the ICEJ family. Our Jerusalem head office is staffed by Christians hailing from 17 different countries and six continents. With vastly different backgrounds, cultures and spiritual journeys, ICEJ’s team dynamic becomes, in some ways, an intercultural microcosm of the nation of Israel at large. ICEJ also reflects the ongoing realisation of biblical prophecies regarding the role of the nations in these days. As much as Jewish aliyah was prophetically foreseen throughout Scripture, so was the role of believing Gentiles: “Thus says the Lord God: ‘Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders’.” (Isaiah 49:22)

This fall, Nicole will celebrate twenty years with the ICEJ. In her role with ICEJ Aid, she has witnessed the challenges, frustrations, and issues unique to the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel. Through her research and ongoing relationships, her now-completed Master’s thesis gives a voice to Ethiopian leaders, and demonstrates the crucial role which vocational training and higher education play in laying a solid foundation for the Ethiopian community in Israel going forward. Ethiopian immigrants who receive the ICEJ’s assistance today are on track to become the leaders, role models and visionaries to light the way for future generations.

Ethiopian Israelis have endured much, and yet they have big dreams and look to the future with optimism. David Elazar, director of an integration center in Rehovot, said it well: “In the early years we were very busy with survival. However, in recent years, [the idea] is catching on. . . . The [Ethiopian] community doesn’t just want to lead themselves. They see themselves as capable of leading others as well.”

Now is the time to walk alongside this community and strategically assist them in breaking free of the stigmas of discrimination, poverty and despair. At the same time, we want to raise up future leaders from within. Thanks to Christian donors worldwide, the ICEJ’s investment is sowing seeds which will reap an abundant harvest for Ethiopian olim for generations to come.


"A wind blew and we knew we had to come" - An excerpt on Ethiopian Integration

Having considered the many challenges inherent in uprooting one’s family and beginning afresh in a new land, one might be tempted to ask, “Is it worth it?” No doubt there are as many answers to this question as there are immigrants.

However, since most of the Beta Israel arrived [from Ethiopia] based on a deep faith conviction, a sense of identity and a purpose within the ancient narrative of the people of Israel, their arrival in the land represents the beginning of a long-yearned-for redemption. As such, it would have been unthinkable for them to forego this journey.

Nevertheless, the reasons people make aliyah vary. I once asked a secular Russian immigrant towards the end of the large Russian aliyah in the nineties why they chose to come to Israel. Their reply amazed me, “I don’t know. It was like a wind blew and we just knew we had to come” (unknown). It hit me then. This “wind” is essentially what brought me to this land, just as it has done and is doing in Jewish communities worldwide. Whether immigrants have arrived because they sought refuge from unwelcoming environments, aspired for the opportunity to re-join their people and rebuild their nation or whether they came because of something less definable – a wind that blew - each new wave of aliyah contributes something beautiful to the colorful mosaic that is Israel. 

**Excerpt from Ethiopian Immigrant Integration Strategies Within Israel’s Modern-Day Restoration: On Identity, Collective Leadership and Two-Way Integration that Bridges Cultural Differences, Develops Social Capital and Builds a Shared Narrative, by Nicole Y. Yoder, Northwest University, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Masters, International Community Development Thesis, Forrest Inslee, PhD, Adviser, 1 May 2019, page 56 **


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