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World ranked 224, Israel’s Amir Weintraub ekes out a living playing World Team Tennis as a Boston Lobster. It helps pay the bills in the sport he loves.

BOSTON — Call it “tennis light,” “family-friendly tennis,” or perhaps, most importantly for players like Israel’s Amir Weintraub, call it “three weeks of tennis with a guaranteed paycheck.” Welcome to World Team Tennis.

For pro players like Weintraub, World Team Tennis is an opportunity for a few weeks’ steady income in a precarious field. Currently ranked 224th in the world, Weintraub ekes out a living playing such relatively minor events on the pro circuit, racking up points with the hope of making it to a major tournament.

World Team Tennis was co-founded in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King (with former husband Larry King) and is based on a concept of gender equity. It consists of eight teams, which travel more than 60,000 miles to play 56 matches; this year’s season ran from July 7 to 24.

Weintraub and his Boston Lobsters finished its 2013 Mylan World Team Tennis season with 23 wins and 15 losses. Eastern and Western Conference Championships were held July 25, followed by the Mylan WTT Finals on July 28 where the Washington Kastles prevailed.

Unlike more conventional professional tennis matches, whose sets and matches can last several hours, WTT matches consist of just five games. Game scoring is no-ad; the first team to win four points wins the game. Tennis without deuces means matches last no more than 30 minutes — even with breaks for on-court dances by mascot Larry the Lobster, MC announcements and cheers (“OK Crustacean Nation-Turn up the Heat!”; “What time is it? Break Time!”), and even on-court player interviews.

During a brief opening night rain delay, the courtside announcer asked Weintraub such playful questions as his first concert (Scorpions), an instrument he’d like to play (guitar), breakfast today (Dunkin’ Donuts), the last concert he saw (Rihanna) and strangest gift ever received at a tennis tournament (a cape from Uzbekistan).

The Lobsters opened the 2013 season at their new home, the Joan Norton Tennis Center at the Manchester Athletic Club on Boston’s North Shore. Each night of the WTT season, fans were treated to men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles. The coach of the home team decided the order of events.

Weintraub represents the level of great athletes who hover around the top without quite breaking into the ranks of big prize money

In the first match of the evening, Weintraub, playing in his second WTT season, defeated Jesse Witten 5-2. Witten, playing in his sixth season with the Sportimes, reached a career high of 163 in singles and 274 in doubles. Weintraub and partner, Eric Butorac, closed out the evening with a 5-2 doubles win over Witten and Robert Kendrick (who reached a career high of 69 in 2009).

But even before Weintraub’s impressive opening night performance, Darlene Hayes, Chief Development Officer and General Manager of the Boston Lobsters, noted, “We are really excited to have Amir play with the Lobsters. He played WTT for the first time last season. We watched and were very impressed with how he played for the Springfield (Missouri) Lasers and for Israel’s Davis Cup. So we scooped him up!”

The good-natured, slim, 6 foot 2 inch (188 cm.) Weintraub, the only Israeli playing this season in the WTT, spoke with the Times of Israel prior to his first match with his new team. The Rehovot native was introduced to tennis at age six when his father, Luis, begin hitting balls with him in a parking lot. Luis also served as his designated driver, and was responsible for getting Amir to and from the Israel Tennis Centers in Jaffa, forty-five minutes each way.

Following a three-year stint at Israel’s Wingate Institute, Weintraub trained at a tennis academy in Vienna, Austria.

“It was hard being alone for two years,” recounted Weintraub, who was sixteen at the time. Upon returning to Israel, Weintraub qualified as an “outstanding athlete” and served the full three and a half years in the Israel Defense Forces. He continued to train at the Israel Tennis Centers in Ramat Hasharon and has been playing professionally since 2005.

Weintraub on the court (photo credit: Howard Blas/Times of Israel)

Weintraub represents the level of great athletes who hover around the top without quite breaking into the ranks of big prize money. In January 2011, Weintraub even participated in the qualifiers of his first Grand Slam — the Australian Open — but he never made it into the main draw.

He has won several low-paying Israel Futures events, and he was a finalist in the 2011 Bangkok Challenger tournament. In 2012, Weintraub reached a career high ranking of 161. In 2013, he qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open, but lost in the qualifiers of Wimbledon.

Weintraub, now 26, constantly reflects on life “below 100” on the pro tour.

“The players below 100 are not less good, but less consistent than the top 100,” said Weintraub. “Every week, we travel somewhere else. I travel about 30 weeks a year. Because we have no relations with the Arab countries, there are no tournaments close to Israel. It’s a hard life.”

A post on weintraubamir.com entitled, “Waiting For an Offer from the Bundesliga,” begins, “If you’re not a top-100 tennis player, you’re doomed. Financially speaking, it will take you a few years to see that you are broke, you’ve spent all of your parents’ money and you’ll ask yourself why you haven’t pursued a football (soccer) career instead.” He explains why tennis leagues in Europe can be lucrative for tennis players, but Weintraub hasn’t played in these leagues. “You usually need a European passport to play in the European leagues.”

So Weintraub found himself in Boston, where it may sound ironic that a Jewish Israeli has been for three weeks, a “Lobster.”

“It is very intense. There are so many matches. And it is a tough format — you get few chances to come back.”

But, it helps pay the bills.

Following the Lobsters season and a series of tournaments, Weintraub is currently playing in Vancouver, where he has made it to the second round. He hopes to qualify for the US Open, which kicks off in late August. Then, it is off to Belgium where Weintraub joins teammates Dudi Sela, Jonathan Erlich, and Noam Okun for their September 12-15 Davis Cup matches. And finally, back on the road again —hoping to make a living doing what he knows and loves. Even as a Lobster.

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Parade part of day-long festivities celebrating Israel-US ties

NEW YORK — More than a million New Yorkers came out Sunday to show support for Israel by attending the city’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade. Hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the route of the parade along Fifth Avenue, drowning the street in a sea of blue and white.

The parade was one in a series of New York-area events — which actually started Saturday night, with the Empire State Building lit up in blue and white.

At 8 a.m. Sunday morning, thousands of runners set out on a sold-out Celebrate Israel 4-mile (6.4-km) run in Manhattan’s Central Park. According to the Celebrate Israel website, “The four-mile run is a symbolic journey through Israel, from Eilat to Tel Aviv.” Israeli runners were treated to a performance at the Central Park Bandshell by Israeli-born recording artist, performer, educator and music therapist, Dafna.

The Celebrate Israel Parade, started in 1964 and formerly known as the Salute to Israel Parade, featured school groups and other Jewish organizations from the tri-state area, floats, and marching bands.

“I’ve been marching for 31 years with Ramaz. Exciting, community building, great experience for faculty and students to share their love and commitment to Medinat Yisrael. We get a chance to demonstrate our connection to our spiritual and sovereign home,” said Ira Miller, dean of Ramaz Upper School on East 78th Street in Manhattan.

Marchers made their way up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, from 57th Street to 74th Street. The colorful marchers carried illustrations, collages, paintings, and other art forms that reflected the 2013 parade theme, “Picture Israel: The Art & the Craft.” According to the parade website, the art work was designed “to show the diversity of Israel and its people, the land/sea/cityscapes, accomplishments, etc.”

Security along the parade route was tight, with bomb-sniffing dogs on the ground and police helicopters above.

Among the Israeli participants at the parade were Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and MK Dov Lipman.

“I have been to New York many times, but this was my first time representing Israel as a member of Knesset in this important parade,” said American-born Lipman of the Yesh Atid party.

Lipman thanked the US and the city of New York for its friendship towards, and support of, the Jewish state.

The day’s festivities were set to end in a friendly soccer match between the Israeli and Honduran national teams.

Meanwhile, several thousand people attended a Closer to Israel march in central London Sunday afternoon, the UK’s first Israel parade in five years.

The event culminated in a celebratory gathering in Trafalgar Square, which was addressed by Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks and Israel’s Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub, as well as Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, who declared he was “proud to be a friend of Israel and proud to be a Zionist.”

Entertainment was provided by Israeli pop star and former Eurovision finalist, Harel Skaat.

The community at the event raised funds for Help for Heroes, a military charity that has been in the news since soldier Lee Rigby was murdered last month by Islamic fundamentalists in London, while wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt.

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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NEW JERSEY — From Pierre Mevy Azaria’s calm demeanor as we sipped cappuccino in the lobby of his New Jersey hotel on Thursday, you would never guess that he is ultimately responsible for every aspect of the Israel versus Honduras soccer exhibition at New York’s Citi Field on Sunday — and that he’s getting married in Israel in two weeks’ time.

The well-dressed, bespectacled Mevy Azaria, CEO of the Geneva-based MCI Sport, seems comfortable in a range of countries and languages, and discussing a wide range of topics. He speaks openly and thoughtfully of his journey from childhood in Tel Aviv, to schooling in Toulouse, internships and jobs in Barcelona, and his current Geneva-based world of organizing and promoting soccer matches around the globe. And he discuses an upcoming move to New York City for his bride-to-be Laura’s law studies at Columbia University.

As we speak, he also deals with here-and-now questions and problems in a relaxed, efficient fashion. One member of the Israel national team approaches our table to inquire of the van driver’s whereabouts; the player is eager to go clothes shopping at a nearby mall.

An earlier mini crisis involves the room of coach Eli Guttman. “He usually gets a suite — to differentiate himself from the players, and so he has a meeting space. We arrived at the hotel and found out the room was given to another guest.”

How this matter was resolved? Mevy Azaria told the hotel manager, “You change the room, or we will change hotels.” He felt justified in making such a threat. “We came two months ago, looked at different hotels, worked out all of the details and signed a contract at this hotel.” Guttman quickly got his room back.

Israeli soccer players lounging at their hotel in New Jersey ahead of a match against Honduras. (photo credit: Howard Blas/Times of Israel staff)

I ask Mevy Azaria why the Israel team has not played in the United States in 35 years. “For lack of interest,” he reports unhesitatingly, but then explains why the timing is right, now, to stage what he refers to as “ethnic matches.”

“In the last two to four years, there has been a real development of soccer in the US — due to demographic reasons. There are a lot of South and Central Americans living here.” In addition, Mevy Azaria notes, the number of spectators watching the European Champions league games on TV “doubled in four years.”

Mevy Azaria is responsible for every aspect of Sunday’s soccer fest. “I rent the stadium, I pay the teams, hotels, and flights — for both teams, and I market the event.”

He says he found the management team at Citi Field “extremely nice to deal with” and felt it is “a Jewish-friendly stadium — like no other place in the world.”

Mevy Azaria was particularly taken by the kosher food stands. “This simply doesn’t exist in Europe.”

In addition, the Citi Field organization is particularly knowledgeable about the synagogues and Jewish communities in the area — a real help in promoting the event. “And the date was a total coincidence—we got two dates which worked for both teams. The Mets just finished up a series with the Yankees and are on the West Coast. And the date, June 2, just happened to be the date of the Celebrate Israel Parade!”

Mevy Azaria discovered football during a business school exchange program, where he had the opportunity to work for Barcelona, one of Europe’s very best teams. He began by selling tickets to Israeli companies for Spanish soccer games. Then, after a year and a half, the owner of MCI Sports approached him, looking for a ticket to a game. He then went to work for MCI.

“A company from Qatar wanted to buy the company, but I was given the chance to buy and develop it — which I did.”

MCI promotes “soccer friendly matches” in Europe — and is now hoping to expand to America. If the New York event is successful, Mevy Azaria envisions similar exhibition matches in such Jewish and Israeli-heavy cities as Los Angeles and Miami.

For now, Mevy Azaria is focused on Sunday’s event — and his wedding. “The game will be a great event, like a party,” he predicts. “The action doesn’t stop for 90 minutes, and it is a chance to cheer on and show support for Israel.”

Unlike the Israeli players who will enjoy vacation and travel time in the States in the week following the match, Mevy Azaria needs to get home to Switzerland, and then on to Israel for his wedding. “Laura has been very understanding.” She’d need to be.

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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Jewish state’s elite squad is relaxed, ready and eager for Sunday’s exhibition game against Honduras

NEW JERSEY — The Israel national soccer team touched down at Newark Airport at 5:30 Thursday morning. By 9 a.m., the freshly showered guys were lounging on the white leather sofas of their New Jersey hotel — calling girlfriends, Skyping mothers, and playfully bantering with teammates, some of whom they hadn’t seen since their impressive 2-0 March 26 World Cup qualifier victory over Northern Ireland in Belfast.

The team came to New York for an exhibition game against Honduras Sunday at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets baseball team. The game — the national team’s first here for 35 years — is the final event of “Celebrate Israel NY” which also includes a Celebrate Israel Run in Central Park and the Celebrate Israel Parade.

While willing to give exclusive-on-arrival interviews to The Times of Israel, most players — many in the United States for the first time — were admittedly more interested in the van, soon to arrive to take them to a nearby shopping mall. Three of the adventuresome players hired a driver to take them straight to Manhattan. Thursday was a free day. A late-afternoon practice was set for Friday at New Jersey’s Montclair State University.

Israeli soccer players (facing camera) Elad Gabai, Dekel Keinan, and Shimon Abuhatzira (photo credit: Howard Blas/Times of Israel staff)

Midfielder Sheran Yeini was excited to be in New York, “one of the best cities in the world.” The Maccabi Tel Aviv player said, “I can’t wait to see the stadium — I know it is a baseball stadium!” It takes 48 hours to convert Queens’ Citi Field for soccer.

Yeini and teammate Elyaniv Barda, a forward originally from Beersheba, and a sixth-year member of the Belgian Racing Genk soccer club, take turns rattling off positive comments about the game and the national team: “We want to represent Israel. We need you! Come to the game and show your support!”

Both made reference to the Celebrate Israel Parade on June 2, on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

“Two or three players will be on a float at the parade — then they will rush to the game,” Yeini said.

Defender Dekel Keinan of Haifa felt both the game and his time in the States “will be an adventure.” Fellow defender, Rami Gershon, originally from Rishon Letzion, was similarly enthusiastic in describing his first trip to the US. “We are looking forward to all of our supporters coming out to the game. We hope families will come.”

Kol Yisrael Achim,” he then shouted. “All Jews are brothers!”

Gershon, who has played soccer for a Belgium team in Antwerp and currently plays for Scottish Premier League champions, Celtic, reported that he has never experienced anti-Semitism or anti-Israel sentiment overseas. “People are supportive and helpful.”

Midfielder Maor Melikson of Yavneh, a player on France’s Valenciennes club, said much the same. “There is no anti-Semitism — the other way around. People bring Israeli flags to the game.” Melikson was in the States six months ago with his wife, who is not accompanying him on this trip. He will travel to Las Vegas for four days following Sunday’s game. “I am looking forward to all the Jews coming out to cheer for us!”

Israeli midfielder Maor Melikson (photo credit: Howard Blas/Times of Israel staff)

Eli Guttman, coach of Israel’s National team (who with players Tel Ben Haim and Rami Gershon gave an online interview May 29, as part of “Hangout on Air with Israel’s National Team”) was not hanging out in the lobby with his players. He was reportedly resting. Guttman was no doubt pleased that Pierre Mevy Azaria, CEO of MCI Sport, the event organizer, promoter and chief logistical officer, had recently “rescued” Guttman’s hotel suite, which had been “reassigned” to another hotel guest.

In the online interview, Guttman acknowledged that Sunday’s game “is an important game for us — every game for the National Team is important.” But he conceded that it has greater significance for Honduras. “On [June 7] Honduras plays against Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup Qualification. For them, they must be on a high level. We, after the game, will be on our vacation.” Still, he said of the game, “We are serious, and we want to be proud.”

According to Mevy Azaria, more than half of the players will be staying in the States from three days to a week, to relax and travel.

In the days leading up to the game, there is still work to be done. Sharon Eyny, director of GIDNY (getitdoneny), seemed relieved when the players boarded the bus for their shopping excursion. She could get back to selling tickets and coordinating logistics.

In the Jewish and Israeli communities, she and her team have reached out to synagogues, restaurants, venues hosting performances by Israeli musicians and more.

And while unwilling to disclose the number of tickets sold to date, she noted that “The Hondurans are passionate about soccer.”

(Source: http://www.timesofisrael.com)

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