Black Dolls for Ethiopian Jewish Children

by Gad Nahshon

From South African townships to the United States to Jerusalem, dark-skinned, soft and cuddly dolls find their way into the arms of Ethiopian Jewish children throughout Israel. Hundreds of the hand-made dolls have been distributed by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) to eager children who are delighted to have a doll that "looks like me!"

The black doll project is the brainchild of Linda Tarry-Chard, the New York based founder and president of the Project People Foundation, in partnership with Helen Lieberman, a white, Jewish South African woman. The Foundation is an AfricanAmerican charity that is noted for helping to build bridges between black and Jewish communities in the United States.

Dolls are made by South African women for distribution to black children in the United States, South Africa, and through NACOEJ, in Israel. Before the end of apartheid, black dolls were forbidden by the government.

Barbara Ribakove Gordon, founder and national director of NACOEJ, realized that while Ethiopian Jewish children in Israel did not suffer from racial discrimination, they did not have dark-hued dolls to play with. Even if their parents could afford to buy them, the dolls weren't available.

Dolls are purchased here in the United States for $20 each for donation to disadvantaged children. The revenues pay the women in South Africa, providing needed employment, and support the work of the Project People Foundation and its "Sponsor-a-Smile" doll campaign. Many donors give the dolls to NACOEJ, which arranges their transport to Israel and distribution among delighted children in schools, day care centers and hospitals. Jewish synagogues and Christian church groups, as well as college campus organizations such as Hillels and Black Student Unions, have joined this effort.

Among the many letters of appreciation that NACOEJ has received is one from Addisu Masalla, the first Ethiopian Jew to become a member of the Knesset, who remarked that his two daughters were charmed by the dolls that had the same skin color that they had. Israeli psychologists and social workers have written that the dolls help Ethiopian children gain more self-esteem and validate their own appearance.

The program continues with donated dolls arriving in Israel for further distribution to waiting children, For more information about NACOEJ, the Project People Foundation and the dolls, contact NACOEJ, 132 Nassau St., 4th floor, New York, NY 10038 or call 212-233-5200; fax, 212-233-5243; e-mail,

Return to News ArchivesBack to Top