“Bene Yechalal” means “anything is possible” in Amharic, the language of the Ethiopian people. The fitting words were chosen as the name for an Ethiopian soccer team which is attempting to give young Ethiopian Jews in one of Israel’s harshest neighborhoods hope for a better future.
“Bene Yechalal” was founded four years ago in “Kiryat Moshe,” a neighborhood largely comprised of Ethiopian immigrants in the Israeli city of Rehovot. The neighborhood has the dubious honor of being the national record-holder of teenagers with criminal files. With a rate of over 50 percent unemployment, the figures are hardly surprising.
To keep the children off the streets and out of gangs, Ambachew Avi, manager of “Bene Yechalal,” created the team and encouraged youths of all ages and backgrounds to join. “The purpose for this team is to be an example for the Ethiopian community and the children. I live in this area and I see how hard it is for the children and the young generation to do something with their lives,” Avi told NoCamels. “It’s really hard for them to become part of society and they feel that they are always judged by their color. I hope that this team will give them the hope they need.”
Since its creation, the soccer team has quite literally become the center of focus for the community. Games are attended by many and everyone is rooting for the team to one day go to championship. Getachew Mekonen, 45, says he is one of the team’s biggest fans: “This team is a dream come true for my children and all Ethiopian children. They can see that if they work hard enough they can be successful. ”
Bene Yechalal already has three teams in its youth league, but daily training is impossible when many parents struggle to pay the yearly $220 (NIS 750) fee. Still the team believes it has strong enough players to take it to the next level. “750 shekels is not much,” said Avi, “but we know that the parents cannot afford more than that.
“Our ultimate purpose is for these kids to get the training they need in order to play or be picked up by strong teams in the league.”
Some of the team’s efforts have already paid off. Several weeks ago managers of the bigger Ashdod soccer team picked up one of Bene Yechalal’s players.
Bene Yechalal’s captain, 33-year-old Ephraim Embrom, said the teams means everything to the community: “Maybe right now we are not in the higher league but this team gives hope to the children. My hope is for them to become great players and play in bigger leagues and even against the biggest teams in Israel like Maccabi Tel Aviv; H’apoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa.”
Photos courtesy Bene Yechalal