Hassadna’s unique program offers high level musical training to Jerusalem’s children of Ethiopian descent and enables them to give back – through breathtakingly accomplished musical performance.

The Program

Hassadna’s program for children of Ethiopian descent was established in 2005 by Ruth Mason and Bob Trachtenberg. Their dream was to share the gift of music with children from the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem. They believed that music has the power to change the life of a child, and it is the right of every child, regardless of socio-economic status, to receive high quality music instruction.

After a long and challenging journey, the program is not only changing the lives of dozens of children from the Ethiopian community in Jerusalem, but it is changing the musical scene in Israel.

We actively seek out children from the Ethiopian community with an interest in playing music, and provide them with the comprehensive support they need for their entire music education.

Participants in the Ethiopian program require intensive, on-going attention, support, sensitivity and careful guidance to guarantee their personal and musical development. Indeed, these elements, combined with full financial support, are essential in order to achieve our desired outcomes. We are genuinely committed to the well-being of every one of our students, and invest in meaningful relationships with them over time.

The Need

Our program highlights the pressing need for this type of intervention within the Ethiopian community. The Ethiopian community in Israel suffers from disproportionately low income per capita, a high unemployment rate, low levels of enrollment in higher education and a significant salary gap from other Israelis. Even those who overcome those challenges and earn university degrees experience significant difficulties finding jobs in their fields. Studies have shown that 53% of Israeli employers are averse to hiring Ethiopian Israelis, while the State Comptroller’s report revealed that Ethiopian Israelis who do find suitable employment earn 40% less than the average Israeli. Recent tragic cases of police brutality against young Ethiopian men has drawn national attention to the grave danger inherent in this slow-burning racism.


Children who participate in our program gain benefits that go far beyond their musical achievements: self-confidence, a space to excel, and all the broader educational advantages that come with belonging to a community of high-level committed learners like the students of Hassadna. The positive effects on students, their families and the Ethiopian community as a whole cannot be overstated.

At the same time, and no less importantly, Hassadna’s program attacks racism from the other end. It provides non-Ethiopian Israeli students and their teachers with all-too rare opportunities to interact with children and young people of Ethiopian descent as equals. Better still, the program has produced some of Hassadna’s shining stars.

Watch: a very special concert

How does the program work?

Each new student undergoes an intensive intake process which aids in creating the best possible program of study. Based on our evaluation, an individualized study plan is developed, and students are directed to the most suitable instruments and instructors. Students benefit from individual weekly lessons of 45-90 minutes each on the musical instrument to which they are assigned and attend music theory lessons.

As they progress, students are also matched with a chamber music group and orchestra, each of which meets once a week for 45-120 minutes. All young people participate in workshops, concerts and exams and are encouraged to take part in extra-curricular activities such as faculty and guest artist concerts and master classes.

Our Program Coordinator maintains on-going communication with various professionals who work on an intensive and daily basis with the children including social workers, the shelter coordinator, day care workers, school principals, teachers and other relevant individuals. She also communicates frequently with students, their instructors and their families. Each student undergoes a structured review every month, and a comprehensive evaluations takes place at the end of each academic year.


The vast majority of students in the Ethiopian program are from Israel’s lowest socio-economic strata. As parents struggle to survive, high quality enrichment for their children remains a distant and unrealized dream. Consistent with our vision of full integration, students not only receive scholarships for tuition, but also assistance that includes the provision of high quality instruments and transportation costs. Our goal is to erase the lines between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, and this level of aid is essential in ensuring their complete integration into our student body.

Financial aid is established by a committee and is based on a thorough evaluation of each family’s economic situation. All of the students in the Music for Children of Ethiopian Descent program receive full scholarships.

Beyond funding tuition, the provision of instruments and musical equipment has great significance for the children in Music for Children of Ethiopian Descent. Just as they cannot afford lessons, renting and/or purchasing instruments is completely out of reach. We go to great lengths to provide each student with high quality instruments. This even includes piano rental for students in our piano department. Not only does the provision of instruments enable practice at home, it helps to further level the playing field for program participants.

Students respond to the honor of owning their own instrument in kind; their expressions of happiness when holding their instruments for the first time are hard to describe. Ownership of an instrument engenders tremendous feelings of pride and responsibility and increases their commitment to their studies. We make every effort to ensure that the young people in Music for Children of Ethiopian Descent are equal among their peers, and having their own instrument is an essential component in this.

We offer a diverse range of programs designed to nurture each student’s innate musicality, leading to the satisfaction and personal rewards that come from accomplishment and sharing. It is often in making music with others that our deepest sense of fulfillment is found. We are committed to helping each child realize the feelings of joy, satisfaction and self-realization that come from making music, while providing our students with the tools they need to fully develop their talents and abilities. Music for Children of Ethiopian Descent is intended for children so lacking in opportunity that they are afraid to dream big. Through this program, they access new worlds of opportunity enabling them to realize their most cherished dreams. This opportunity can, and often does, stimulate profound changes in their lives and their futures.

Links with the Ethiopian Community

Ambassador to Israel visits Hassadna

Hassadna has had for many years a close and fruitful friendship with former Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Halawi Yosef. In January 2016, we were honored to host him for the first time at the Conservatory to present special scholarship awards in memory of H.E. Meles Zenawi, the beloved former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and a dear friend of Israel. The event was a beautiful celebration of music and friendship. We are grateful to Cheryl Halpern and the Queen of Sheba Foundation for their generous support of this special initiative.

Student perspectives

Orit (a student of Voice)

“You have changed my life! For me, the music has become the only corner in which I can hold onto in order to survive. When I came to the Conservatory I didn’t believe in myself. It was amazing for me that you believed in me. You gave me confidence and the feeling that I will be taken care of, that I have talent, that I can do it! At the Conservatory I experienced warmth, attentiveness, support and encouragement that I have never before had in my life!”

Avraham (a graduate in Violin)

“Hassadna is my home! It is where I walked my first steps into the music world, and although I only came there to study violin, I feel that I was priviledged to learn there much more. The professional spirit of my fellow students brought me to a high level of persistence and incredible progress. The amazing teachers at Hassadna, who never give up on their students, taught me about hard word and tenacity. At Hassadna I learned to respect, to appreciate and to love. The wonderful directors of Hassadna guided me, both musically and personally, throughout all the years: they made sure I lack for nothing, they drew me out of crises, they gave me incredible opportunities in the greatest concert halls in Israel and abroad, they supported me financially and emotionally, they installed motivation in me to keep on going and they loved me as a family member.
This perfect place is hard to describe in words. That is why in the far future, when I will remember Hassadna, I will not think about what they gave me or what they did for me, but I will think about how they made me feel.”

Maya’s story

Maya (not her real name) has been studying at the Conservatory since 2007. Maya and her family immigrated to Israel from a small city in Ethiopia. Not only was the transition to Israel traumatic, she was faced with an additional hardship: a violent and abusive father. Maya, her five other siblings and her mother were forced to leave their home and take refuge at the Jerusalem Shelter for Battered Women. The shelter‘s Educational Coordinator noticed that Maya displayed a special gift for the arts and referred her to the Conservatory’s program for children of Ethiopian descent. After two interviews, Maya, her eyes shining with excitement, arrived for her first music lesson. Since Maya began learning at the Conservatory ten years ago, music has become central to her life and Hassadna has become her second home. Without a doubt, the Conservatory has given Maya a life changing opportunity, warm and caring social support and a release from the difficulties of daily life.

A few words from Ronit Berman, the program’s first director

“Working with these special children has been a moving experience in the deepest sense of the word. For me, this unique program represents Jerusalem as I see her in my dreams; Jerusalem of Gold, of happiness, of human richness and of unity. I believe that, more than anything else, music has the power to strengthen and unite these elements. There is something so wondrous about these children and the special connection that has developed between them and the music. Each of them grows up in a very different environment – often exposed to severe physical, financial and social difficulties, and the alienation that lack of integration can engender. However, all find the Conservatory a second home where music empowers them and gives them joy, hope and new aspirations. Accompanying these families and children and witnessing the project’s impact on their lives has imprinted within me countless unforgettable moments!”

Program Partners

We work very closely with both the Jerusalem Battered Women’s Shelter and social workers with the Municipal Welfare Department of Jerusalem. In addition to sending us referrals, our partners are crucial in providing on-going support and feedback regarding the impact of the music lessons in the lives of their youth. They have repeatedly told us how grateful they are that we offer ‘their’ children the very rare opportunity to participate in a program of such high caliber. For the first time in their lives, these young people feel equal to children coming from far less challenged backgrounds and greatly benefit from the stability and sense of normality that our program gives them.

Join us in making a big difference in the lives of these special children, and help them to experience true beauty and joy. We welcome general contributions to Hassadna’s Program for Children of Ethiopian Descent, and sponsorship of an individual student at a cost of $4,500 per annum.

For more information

Please contact Chava Fraenkel, Special Projects Coordinator at: Chava@hassadna.com