Shalom Life | July 31, 2014

Breaking Through the Barrier

Ethiopian Israeli Will “Do Anything” to Realize His Dream

By: Yael Bernovsky

Published: March 9th, 2012 in News » World

Breaking Through the Barrier

Danny Gashai, 32, grew up in Beer Sheva. Having previously earned a BA in biology and an MA in medical science from the Hebrew University, he is now in his first year at Bar Ilan University’s new faculty of medicine in Safed.

Indeed, after so many years at university, Danny has started again. He moved with his girlfriend to Safed. And despite the long hours of study, he finds the time to volunteer at an absorption centre where he helps immigrant children with their homework.

“I came to Israel at the age of two,” he explains. “I went to school with Israelis and grew up like any other Israeli child. When I was in elementary school, as part of an extracurricular science activity, we visited Soroka hospital [in Beer Sheva], where we saw how blood tests are done. I found it fascinating, and ever since I dreamed of being a doctor. I later went to a high school for gifted students in Jerusalem.

“Because of the impossible requirements to get into medical school, I studied biology, which I enjoyed. I began an MA and simultaneously studied for the entrance exams for medical school. During that time, I repeatedly asked myself whether I was really prepared to spend another five years at university. The answer is that a person will do anything to realize his dream, and my dream has always been to study medicine. I have no doubt that I made the right decision.”

Gashai says that Israeli society should be more accepting and less racist. “I was shocked to hear on the news about the school in Petach Tikva at which all the students are Ethiopian. On the other hand, the multitudes of NGOs, which get money from the government, are not doing much to improve the situation.

“How many Ethiopian kids are in regular schools, rather than schools in which 90% of the students are Ethiopian? Those kids get off to a bad start in life, especially if the school is weak and gets less funding. When I was a child, I studied in an integrated school from which I moved to a special school for gifted students. It is very important to be able to measure yourself against others.”

Should Israel be spending more money on Ethiopian immigrants?

Israel already spends a lot of money – the problem is how things are run. The funding exists, but things aren’t handled well. Everyone works to advance their own interests. In my opinion, much more can be done for the Ethiopian community. Not everyone needs to be an athlete; Ethiopians are capable of doing other things as well. Some have prestigious jobs.

What would you like people to learn from your story?

“That not everyone is disadvantaged, not everyone grew up with deprivation. Showing only those stories isn’t right. If my story motivates Ethiopian children and shows them that anything is possible, I’ll be happy.

“But children’s motivation is dependent on the messages they pick up from their environment. If they are made to feel that they are less worthy than others, that’s how they’ll grow up. Parents do not always understand their children’s difficulties. Children need role models to drive them forward.

“The messages which are conveyed by the media are also important, and those messages are often negative. The message is often that there’s no point investing in Ethiopians. While I feel bad for the children at that school in Petach Tikva, the problem is that other kids who hear the story are harmed by it as well.”

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