When Rahel Tabay was born in the desert of Sudan in 1981 on her family’s journey
on foot from Ethiopia to Israel, it was unclear if she would survive, let alone
that she would become bureau chief to State Comptroller Yosef
Tabay said that both she and her mother were “in danger during
birth” because of the problematic conditions and the “lack of any standard
Even after she survived the birth, her parents were
“unsure that she could survive the journey through the desert which could take
anywhere from weeks to months.”
“It’s not like we had GPS,” said Tabay,
who added that many Ethiopians annually mark a day to remember around 4,000
Ethiopian Jews who died in the walk across the desert.
Tabay grew up in
Beersheba and had to struggle through adapting to Israeli language and culture
despite the fact that neither of her parents had reached a level of Hebrew
“There were organizational volunteers” and people “associated
with school,” who Tabay was very thankful to and who gave her and others extra
help in order to get through school and adapt.
religiously “traditional,” Tabay came from a completely orthodox family and
could have opted out of army service in favor of doing national
However, Tabay wanted a chance to “broaden her perspective” and
“see something different from what she was used to.” Tabay also decided from the
start that if she did the army, she wanted to “do something significant,” and
volunteered and was selected for an officer track in the IDF logistics division
where she would serve an extra year and obtain the rank of
She said that the officers course was “not easy,” but that it
was also an “experience which changed who I was.” Although her parents were
initially surprised by her decision, they were eventually “very supportive and
proud.” Prior to joining the State Comptroller’s Office as bureau chief and
liaison on foreign cooperation, Tabay worked to raise money for her studies, got
a degree in communications at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and traveled
on several trips to the US.
On one of her trips, she toured synagogues
and non-Jewish venues trying to correct people’s perceptions of Israel in the
face of what she called media distortions and tried to highlight some of the
less-known impressive aspects of Israeli society.
It was particularly fun
for Tabay, she said, to explain to non-Jewish Americans about multicultural
Israeli society, since many of them thought that Israel was all immigrants from
Europe and had not met a “black Jew” from Ethiopia ever before.
started her position with Shapira, in which she, among other things, manages his
schedule only three months ago.
Her other “hat” is to share information
with foreign nations so that Israel can improve its oversight of government
operations and to help other nations learn from Israel’s accomplishments in that
For example, Tabay noted that the comptroller’s powers in Israel
“are much wider” and the “areas of government which he critiques are much
broader” than in many other nations.
Tabay also emphasized that the
comptroller had significant “independence, a freer hand and independent control
over his budget” in a way that corresponding officials in many other nations do
She added that exchanging information and hosting visits, such as a
recent visit by the ombudsman of Panama, were a huge opportunity to positively
affect other nations’ views of Israel by direct contact.
Asked why she
took the position, Tabay said that not only did she want to do public service,
but she liked that part of the comptroller’s work would let her improve services
to ethnic minorities, such as the Ethiopian community.
Tabay said she
appreciated that Shapira was seriously concerned about issues of equality in
Israeli society and that, provided candidates met the necessary qualifications,
he viewed hiring ethnically diverse candidates as an additional
She remarked that Shapira was both “very serious about his
work,” but “also fun to work with.”
Asked if she was nervous interviewing
with such a high public official, Tabay said that before she entered the room to
interview “she took a deep breath.” But once she entered she said that she just
“explained who I am, made sure I was myself” and showed that she “could be
assertive,” an important quality in a bureau chief and foreign
Tabay hopes that her experience and achievements will inspire
other Ethiopians to see that a barrier has been crossed and that important
positions in society are now open to them that were not in the past.
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