Monday, May 11, 2015

YBA Alumni Profiles: Damas Pikada, YBA Torah U'Mada (To"M)

Damas Pikada: From police abuse to the Buckingham Palace

How does a young man, in spite of being orphaned at a young age, manage to deal with non-stop contributing to the community? How does he manage to rise above being beaten by police to become a role model for the whole community?

By Hila Nagar, YNet, May 5, 2015

On May 19, an Israeli delegation will fly to London to meet the British royal family as part of the "Israeli Youth Leadership" project. Barring anything unexpected, a member of the delegation will Damas Pikada.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because Pikada was the soldier who was a victim of police abuse two weeks ago. The incident was caught by security cameras, and the video served as the catalyst for the many large protests that broke out this week against police violence and racism, led by Ethiopian Israelis .

Pikada's story is far from being common. This is a young man who, despite his difficult background and unfavorable starting conditions, having lost both his parents, has engaged almost from the day of his arrival in Israel seven years ago in contributing to the community as a volunteer. He has won numerous awards for his volunteer activities, including the Ilan Ramon Prize, and most recently, the Israeli Youth Leadership Prize. As mentioned, he and the other youths chosen for the award are due to travel to Buckingham Palace next week to dine with Prince Edward, who is the global patron of the project.

"It feels great, I'm looking forward to taking part in the delegation to London," he said this week. "Everything I did as a volunteer, I would go back and do again. By giving you actually gain a lot; not a material terms, but in terms of your spiritual feeling, which is just as important. I didn't volunteer in order to receive an award; giving just makes me feel fulfilled."

The video captured by a random security camera showing Damas being beaten by two policemen caught his high school administrators and his friends by surprise. "Damas is a quality guy with good values," said YBA Torah U'Mada (To"M) administrator David Elbaum. "So it isn't in his nature to break the law."

The school's principal, David Deri, also described Damas as the guy who was first to volunteer for any activity and who stood out in his giving to others. "Damas came here when he was an orphan. [His father died in Ethiopia and] his mother died later from a serious illness. As a student Damas was always looking for opportunities to volunteer, contribute and offer help. When guests arrived at the school he was the first to approach and greet them, saying 'Welcome to our home - welcome to the To"M family.' His relationship with people is something special. His giving is endless, it's something you do not see every day. 

"We have a mentoring project for ninth graders in the dormitory - and it was clear that Damas would lead the other mentors. Damas also volunteered for the distribution of food to needy families, volunteered in a nursing home, in clubs for the Ethiopian community in Hadera, and the Civil Guard. He was even trained to use firearms by police. Damas also volunteered to help out in the dining room, and traveled to absorption centers to tell the children about YBA To"M and convince them that it is good place for them to go for high school."

Post Log:

On April 27 Damas was riding his bike on the way home from his army base when he came upon a policeman stopping traffic on the street. Damas' account of what happened next:

"He was talking on his cellphone, and I waited for him to finish his call before asking him what was going on. He just said 'Turn around,' and as you can see in the video, he suddenly began to attack me. I spoke to him with respect, and he simply decided to raise his hand against me and do whatever he felt like with me. I had no idea that he would lash out at me that way. While he was hitting me I was in shock. I didn't understand why he was beating on me. I was in IDF uniform, serving my country. The policemen then tried to put me in handcuffs. I fought back to prevent them from getting the cuffs on, because I was afraid that if I was handcuffed there would be no way for me to defend myself and I would get badly beaten."

The video, which was prominently featured in the evening news reports on the three Israeli TV channels, led to Israel's Chief of Police, Yohanan Danino (himself a graduate of YBA Or Etzion) immediately firing the police officer who attacked Damas. But despite the dismissal, the video sparked fierce anti-police and anti-racism protests in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and other locations, with many more Ethiopian youths coming forward to complain about unjustified police violence against them.

"I never imagined that there was so much police violence against Ethiopian youth." said Damas. "It was a miracle that it was all captured by the security camera. No one would have believed me if I claimed that the policeman attacked me unprovoked. Hashem was watching over me."

Damas continues to visit YBA To"M on free weekends, where he is like a big brother to the students and a positive role model. "To"M is my second home," he says, "I know that I can always come here if I need anything."

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