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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

March 25, 2016  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Israeli Jewish and Arab kids court friendship through tennis

By THAIS LEON-MILLER Jewish Press


Above, Yoni Yair, Israel Tennis Centers vice president of development, with star player, Shir Homung. Below, Shai Buchnik demonstrates his tennis skills at an exhibition in Tampa March 9. Above, Yoni Yair, Israel Tennis Centers vice president of development, with star player, Shir Homung. Below, Shai Buchnik demonstrates his tennis skills at an exhibition in Tampa March 9. Daniella Shved grew up with her family in a small town in the Ukraine. When she was just 6 years old, she and her father fled to Jaffa, Israel, leaving behind her sister and mother to care for her grandparents.

Daniella, now 12, has overcome hardships and become a top 10 ranked tennis player in her local area, thanks in the large part to the Israel Tennis Centers (ITC).

She is one of thousands of kids, of different religions and socioeconomic backgrounds, brought together at one of the ITC’s 14 centers across Israel, mostly in underprivileged areas.

The goal of the ITC is twofold: to provide a refuge for children trying to escape poverty and to show the world that Arab and Jewish children can train and compete with each other and ultimately develop friendships.

On March 9, the ITC displayed the fruits of those efforts at an exhibition match in Tampa as part of a tour around Florida in celebration of the organization’s 40th year in existence. The event was made possible through the efforts of chairs Maureen and Doug Cohn.

Before a crowd of more than 75, Daniella, three other players and the group’s coach showed off their tennis skills (as well as exhibited their personal charm) on the Harbour Island Athletic Club Center court.

“It’s devastating to know 36 percent of the children in Israel live below the poverty line,” said ITC Vice President of Development Yoni Yair.

“We serve over 20,000 children,” Yair said. “Israel Tennis Center is the largest social service for children in Israel.”

One of those children is charismatic 11-year-old, Luai Mussa. The lefty from an impoverished Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem has become quite popular at the tennis centers, earning the nickname “Mini Rafael Nadal.” His lightning-quick feet and megawatt smile definitely leave an impression, but just in case that wasn’t enough, Luai told the exhibition audience in slightly accented English, “Remember my name; I’m going to be number one in the world.”


Yani Yair looks on as Luai Mussa talks about the Israel Tennis Centers. Yani Yair looks on as Luai Mussa talks about the Israel Tennis Centers. Shai Buchnik lives in Ashkelon, just north of the Gaza Strip. He has grown accustomed to the staccato of gunfire and rockets by his young age of 14. He performed drills during the exhibition match, catching the attention of everyone in the stands, especially when he returned a shot between his legs, while facing away from the net.

“It was 2014 when rockets fell on Ashkelon,” Shai told the exhibition audience. “We were so scared, but the tennis center in the north invited us to come play tennis in a quiet place. It was so special; wherever I go I know the tennis center will be there for me.”

Shir Hornung is a 19 year-old IDF soldier and student. In introducing her, Yair described her as one of the top players in Israel and a great role model.

Shir has been playing tennis since she was 7 years old. She calls the tennis centers a “second home” and says she was taught discipline and responsibility there.

The team’s coach, Noam Yitzhaki, is also a product of the tennis centers.

Growing up close to the Lebanese border in the town of Kiryat Shmona, he was introduced to the tennis center in his area at age 8. As his training intensified and his play improved, Yitzhaki began playing regional and then national tournaments. By the age of 18, he was as ranked the number one tennis player in Israel.

Yitzhaki, now 27, credits the tennis centers for giving him and others like him a place to feel safe amid chaos.

ITC Vice President of Global Development Jackie Glodstein urged the audience to share the good stories of Israel, like the ones shared from the tennis center.

“If there is to be peace in Israel,” she said, ”it will need to be built from the ground up.”

For Glodstein and the ITC, that means building more centers, helping more children and creating more opportunities for children of all backgrounds and religions.

During the Tampa visit, $20,000 was raised for the ITC.

“This event was such an inspiration to see so many diverse backgrounds come together in a time when there is so much conflict occurring in our world,” said Pam Cotner, assistant JCC director, who helped organize the visit.

For more information on ITC or sponsoring a child, go towww.iaraeltenniscenters.org, call (212) 784-9200 or send an email to usa@israeltenniscenters.org.


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