At the age of 11, Dan Haokip, who will be among the 20 Degel Menashe 2022-23 academic and vocational scholarship recipients to be announced later this month, is the youngest award winner to date. And not only his age is unusual. So is what he wants to study. It’s soccer.
And yet, why not? A professional career in soccer, if you have the talent for it, is not a career – and Doron Dadash, Dan’s coach at Hapoel Jerusalem, with whose children’s team he plays and works out several times a week, thinks he has a lot of it. “I believe Dan can go far,” Dadash told the Degel Menashe Newsletter. “Although he’s been training and playing with Hapoel for only a few months, he’s already on the level of boys who have been with us for several years. It’s not only his technical skills, which are advanced for his age. It’s his soccer intelligence. He has an instinctive ability to read the play on the field and know where to be at any moment. You don’t often see that in 11-year-olds.”
“Although he’s been training and playing with Hapoel for only a few months, he’s already on the level of boys who have been with us for several years. It’s not only his technical skills, which are advanced for his age. It’s his soccer intelligence. He has an instinctive ability to read the play on the field and know where to be at any moment. You don’t often see that in 11-year-olds.”Doron Dadash
Dan not only has talent, he has ambition. How far can he go? “I’d like to play in the European Champions League,” he told us over the phone.
“Dan has loved soccer practically since was a baby,” says his mother, Esther Haokip, who is separated from her husband and lives with her four children in Kiryat Arba. “I used to find him glued to the TV screen, watching a soccer game, before he knew how to talk. And as soon as he started talking, he could name all the famous soccer stars in the world. When he got to be a little older, he joined a children’s soccer club in Kiryat Arba. It cost money, and we never have enough of that, but how could I have told him he couldn’t? I could see how happy it made him.”
Earlier this year, Esther had a visit from an old friend who noticed Dan’s love of the sport and told them she had heard that Hapoel Jerusalem was scouting for young talent and that it held try-outs. “There was a try-out last May,” Esther says, “and I took Dan to Jerusalem for it. He was asked to play and then given a physical check-up, and we were told that we would hear from the club in two or three weeks. To my mind, it was just a fun day for Dan. I never thought anything would come of it.”
A promising young soccer star nearly kept off the field
However, that evening, Esther received a call from Doron Dadash. “He told me that Hapoel was so impressed by Dan’s performance that the team was accepting him immediately and wanted him to come four times a week for training sessions,” she recounts. “I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know how we would manage. It’s over an hour each way, traveling by bus from our home in Kiryat Arba to the Hapoel field; and the bus fare, which has to be for two people because Dan is too young to travel alone, isn’t cheap. There were costs to pay Hapoel, too. Even though I knew we couldn’t afford it, I also knew how important it was for Dan, so I decided to give it a try.”
Dan began traveling to Jerusalem four days a week after school, sometimes with his mother and sometimes with a family friend or relative. After a month of this, though, Esther decided it was simply too hard. “I told Dan he would have to stop,” she says. “It was a great disappointment to him, but he understood. Doron was disappointed, too. He started calling me on the phone to try to get me to change my mind. He said I shouldn’t worry about the money, that Hapoel would work something out with me, and that I mustn’t let Dan’s potential go to waste. In the end, I gave in, and Dan started going to the training again. But even if Hapoel covered the costs at its end, I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the transportation.”
That’s when Degel Menashe stepped in. Hearing Dan’s story, the organization contacted Esther and told her they were offering Dan a scholarship that would pay for the travel expenses. Lives of the Children of Manasia.
And so Dan is back on the playing field. We spoke with him on the phone the other night. He and his mother had just gotten home from Jerusalem. He had already done his homework in his free moments at school and had just enough time for dinner and a bath before going to bed. Perhaps for a few minutes of watching the Mondial, too. Dan is rooting for Brazil. That’s because his favorite player is the Brazilian star Neymar. “I like his style,” Dan says. “He knows exactly what to do with the ball.” That, says, Doron Dadash, is what Dan knows, too. ■
The writer is executive director of Degel Menashe and lives in Ramla with his wife and daughter. His book, Lives of the Children of Manasia, written with his friend Hillel Halkin and published by Gefen, came out this year.