When Atlanta’s 14-and-under boys soccer team grabbed the silver medal at this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games in Birmingham, Ala., it got a big boost from a player who came from far outside the Perimeter.
Aviv Meneibal, 13, who lives in Yokneam, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s sister city through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether program, scored five goals during the tournament.
The Yokneam-Megiddo region receives funding from Federation through Partnership2Gether to support the community’s well-being.
Aviv is part of a new generation of Ethiopians integrating into Israeli society while raising expectations for Ethiopian children. His mother was only 14 when she arrived in Israel with her baby boy; now at 13, he has huge ambitions.
“It was great and a lot of fun,” Aviv said.
Back home in Yokneam, he takes advantage of the Ethiopian Family Empowerment Center and the resources available to him.
“I participate in a teens program that enrolled me into the tennis center, and we also go on trips together,” Aviv said.
His early success in school and adjustment to Israeli culture reflect the main goals for Partnership2Gether.
Many children have trouble balancing the two cultures and suffer from identity issues that block their path to success, said Shosh Zehavi, the director of the center.
“Many adolescents have trouble dealing with their parents and their past, and for Ethiopians more so because there is a whole cultural difference issue,” Zehavi said.
Aviv doesn’t seem to carry the same identity issues as many older Ethiopians who were brought to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He said he views himself as experiencing a typical Israeli childhood: “I feel that I grew up just like everybody else.”
In Israel, he is a regular kid, and with the help of Federation he has participated in the soccer group the past six years. Aviv has learned that determination and hard work take you far, said Bernice Malka, the Living Bridge coordinator for the Partnership2Gether program linking Yokneam and Megiddo in Israel with Atlanta and St. Louis.
“One of the lessons he has learned is if you’re good and consistent, you will go far, and that’s why he was chosen,” Malka said.
Aviv works hard and focuses on school and playing tennis and soccer. His daily routine runs on a strict schedule of school, study, sports and fun with friends.
“I practice soccer three evenings a week, play tennis two evenings, and we have games on Saturdays. I manage to keep on top of my schoolwork,” Aviv said. “I get up at 7 in the morning, study till 1:30 and start practicing at 5:30 for about two hours each day. I play with friends in the neighborhood.”
He hopes to play soccer professionally someday. His current path has all the makings of a star with continued hard work and support from the Jewish Agency and Federation.
Alex Rogow, a soccer coach during the Maccabi Games, said Aviv and a fellow Israeli teen, Yarin, added value to the team.
“Aviv and Yarin were incredible, and anyone who was fortunate to meet them became their friends,” Rogow said. “They added so much joy to the team, and their talents helped lead us to a silver medal.”