Yokneam soccer star signs for Israeli champions

17 year-old Ethiopian-born Gadi Melassa has been able to focus on soccer due to the on going support of the Jewish Federations of Atlanta and St. Louis, as part of  Partnership2Gether.

By Simon Griver

Hapoel Yokneam soccer starlet Gadi Melassa has signed a one-year deal with Israeli champions Hapoel Kiryat Shmona. The 17 year-old Ethiopian-born immigrant is considered one of Israel’s most talented soccer prospects and hopes to be able to sign a professional contract with the Upper Galilee soccer team in 2013 after his eighteenth birthday next August.

Eli Mizrahi, the professional manager of Hapoel Yokneam’s youth team who has watched Gadi develop over the past five years is confident that Gadi has the qualities needed to become a very successful professional soccer player. He said, “Gadi is a very talented attacking midfielder who knows how to slice open a defense with an accurate pass and come forward and score goals himself. He is fast, strong and hard working but more importantly his talent has not gone to his head. He is modest and respects others and has the mentality of a winner.”

Gadi has been able to develop his talent thanks to a scholarship from the Jewish federations of Atlanta and St. Louis, and Partnership2Gether program. Yokneam-Megiddo is partnered with St. Louis and Atlanta through the framework of the Jewish Agency’s Partnership2Gether (P2G) program (formerly partnership 2000), which brings together Diaspora and Israeli Jews.

Bernice Malka, Living Bridge Coordinator for P2G Yokneam-Megiddo said, “These ongoing annual scholarships like the one which has enabled Gadi to focus on soccer are vital for the self esteem and raising the motivation of teenagers from the most disadvantaged families in Yokneam-Megiddo. It enables them to participate in extra-curricular activities in sport, music, dance and the arts – wherever they have talent.”

She added, “It gives them something to look forward to when they get out of bed in the morning. It gives them the chance to dream and this is very empowering. In Gadi’s case, he may have the opportunity to fulfill those dreams.”

Gadi is one of five children born to an Ethiopian immigrant family who came to Israel from Addis Ababa when he was just two months old. As a teenager, he has been in a single-parent family for the past five years after his father died of a liver malfunction.

Gadi’s personal hero is Barcelona’s Lionel Messi who overcame childhood illness to become perhaps the world’s greatest player. He also admires Israel national team captain Yossi Benayoun who grew up in a Moroccan immigrant family in Dimona and went onto become a Premier League star in England with teams like Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Both players like Gadi are attacking midfielders and serve as role models.

“I feel wonderful when I get onto a soccer field,” he said, “I am very ambitious but to succeed I must take each step at a time. Hapoel Kiryat Shmona is a great club and I hope to establish myself in their youth team and reach the first team in two to three seasons time. In the long term, I want to succeed so that my family, the Ethiopian immigrant community, the people of Yokneam and the US Jewish communities that gave me my generous scholarship will all be proud of me.”

Gadi continued, “I also want to succeed for the sacred memory of my father and my personal coach Erez who died suddenly last year after a heart attack.”

Mizrahi reveals that Gadi had been in talks with many of Israel’s most glamorous soccer clubs like Maccabi Haifa, but in the end it was decided that he would progress more swiftly at Kiryat Shmona, the small town team which shocked the country last season by winning their first-ever league title, and which has a tradition of giving young players an early opportunity to prove themselves.

Each year, 80 children and teens from underprivileged families in Yokneam receive scholarships from the federations, to attend sports, arts and music programs. Throughout the years these programs have enriched the lives of these kids, helping them to realize their personal potential.

Judy Yuda, the Jewish Agency’s Yokneam-Megiddo P2G Regional Manager said, “I think all of Yokneam-Megiddo will be rooting for Gadi. If Gadi can succeed, and we believe he can, it will be a wonderful boost for all the teenagers in our community, and a tangible demonstration that dreams can and do come true providing you work hard for them.”



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