From Ethiopian Orphanage to Jewish Day School

Mesfin Hodes Makes Inspirational Journey of Hope

steve peterson/ terrachroma

By Vicky Tobianah

Published February 08, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Rick Hodes adopted Mesfin when the boy was 8 years old, bringing him to his cramped house in Addis Ababa. “He sleeps in a corner of the living room curled up on two cushions, covered in an airline blanket,” Hodes wrote to a friend shortly after the adoption. Mesfin is the fifth Ethiopian child that Hodes adopted; he has no biological children of his own. A doctor for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Hodes treats Ethiopian children — many of them orphans — with congenital heart diseases, spinal diseases and cancers. He has worked on extreme cases, straightening the saxophone-shaped spine of one 18-year-old. He also treats Ethiopians immigrating to Israel and reports pressing health concerns to the Israeli government.

Mesfin calls him an “angel.”

“There’s days I see him getting an hour of sleep, maybe,” he says. “He’s just extremely dedicated to saving other peoples’ lives, to the pleasure of seeing them reborn.”

At first, Mesfin had a difficult time adjusting to his father’s faith. Living in Ethiopia, he says, he never really cared much about religion. “It was not something I agreed with,” he says. He was too busy worrying about where his next meal would come from or where he would sleep. But after being adopted by an Orthodox Jew, he began to reconsider.

“I was really not into religion at that time and when I came [to America], I was lost,” says Mesfin. His observant father wanted him to learn more about Jewish traditions, and initially sent him to a yeshiva in Denver. But Mesfin struggled with the strict rules there, and found the biblical texts inaccessible.

“I went to yeshiva straight out of Ethiopia,” he says. “It was crazy. It was too much. I had no background at all.” But learning about his father’s religion was important to him, so his father sent him to AHA, a pluralistic Jewish boarding school which his adopted brother had also attended — a place he now calls his second home, after Ethiopia. He says the school is more inclusive than the yeshiva, and not as strict religiously.

“I wanted to take it step by step, so AHA was a great place for that,” he says. “Now I’m learning a lot.”

He returns to Ethiopia almost every summer, where he fundraises for another orphanage called Hope for Generations. He is also at work on another project, a charity basketball tournament called Points for Peace, which he hopes will raise over $30,000 for the JDC and for Children’s Cross Connection International, an interfaith medical care and education organization started by Jews and Christians.

If he becomes the “richest man in the world,” like he jokes he wants to be when he gets older, he knows how he will use the money: helping other people, just like his father helped him.

“Growing up, I actually really thought about how I just might die the next day. I didn’t really think about what’s gonna come next, am I gonna go to college,” he says. Now, he thinks about the future. He says maybe one day he’ll study business in college. “I’m here because my dad gave me a second chance. I want to do the same for others.”

Vicky Tobianah recently graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Arts with honors in Political Science and English Literature. She is a freelance writer based in Toronto.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.