Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel will play in Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I for an eighth straight year in 2017 after losing 3-0 to Ukraine in Eilat on Saturday.

A 2-1 win over Croatia on Friday wrapped up first place in Pool C for Israel, but Julia Glushko and Shahar Pe’er ran out of steam on Saturday and couldn’t beat the strong Ukrainians to advance to the World Group II playoffs.

Pe’er, ranked No. 189 in the world, lost 6-1, 6-1 to Kateryna Bondarenko (73) before Glushko (126) fell 7-6 (1), 7-6 (2) to Lesia Tsurenko (35).

Shelly Krolitzky and Alona Pushkarevsky lost 6-2, 6-2 to Bondarenko and Olga Savchuk in the meaningless doubles rubber.

“This was a very long week and I woke up feeling completely exhausted,” said Glushko.

“Even though I feel a little sad now, I will try and take the positives from this week.”

Pe’er was also hopeful of building on her performances in Eilat over recent days.

“I end this week feeling much stronger and I’m going all the way in 2016,” said Pe’er. “I will give my all and hopefully the coming weeks will go well. There is no doubt in my mind that I’m a good enough player to be ranked in the top 100.”

Pe’er kicked off the action for Team Israel on Center Court in Saturday afternoon’s match against Ukraine’s Bondarenko.

This time, the hard-hitting Pe’er’s unforced errors, six double faults and generally weak serve made it impossible to recover from a 6-1 deficit in the first set. Pe’er went on to lose the match in 64 minutes.

Glushko faced off against Tsurenko in a hard fought, back and forth, two hours singles marathon. Glushko went up 1-0, and quickly fell behind 4-1 before going up 5-4. Glushko lost in the first set tie-breaker, only winning two points. In a heartbreaker second set, Glushko fell in a tiebreaker despite being up 3-0 and 5-3. Following the last point, Glushko pointed a finger at the chair umpire, said “no, no, no,” threw her racket and appeared teary in protest of what she thought was a bad call.

Belgium joined Ukraine in the playoffs, with Israel and Great Britain finishing in 3rd and 4th place.

Friday’s matches started late due to the long Belgium versus Bulgaria doubles match on Center Court. Pe’er battled back from a 6-3, 1-0 deficit to defeat Tena Lukas in two hours.

Pe’er hit hard from the baseline, moving Lukas from corner to corner and winning many long rallies. In the second match, Glushko went down to Ana Konjuh in straight sets, 7-6, 6-1.

Pe’er brought Glushko back to life in the doubles match versus Konjuh and Darija Jurak.

The Croatian team got off to a 4-1 lead before the Israeli team fought back with five straight games, to win 6-4, 7-6.

Read more

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel enters Friday’s Fed Cup Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tie against Croatia in Eilat still in contention to advance to the World Group II playoffs after defeating Estonia 3-0 on Thursday.

After falling 2-1 to Turkey in its opening Pool C tie, the blue-and-white bounced back with an emphatic victory, with Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko triumphing in their singles rubbers before teaming up to complete the whitewash with a win in the doubles.

Pe’er, ranked No. 189 in the world, easily defeated Valeria Gorlats (1,008) 6-0, 6-3, while Glushko (126) beat Anett Kontaveit (80) 6-3, 6-3. She returned to court less than an hour later and together with Pe’er claimed a 6-3, 6-2 win over Gorlats and Maileen Nuudi.

Israel faces Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will face the winner of Pool A on Saturday for a place in the World Group II playoffs, while the bottom-placed nations will play to determine relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

Pe’er quickly and smoothly knocked off Gorlats, with the bright sun barely having time to duck behind the grandstand during the 65-minute match. Pe’er made few unforced errors, won 80% of points on first serve, and won 66% of break points – to Goralts’s 16%.

Excessive cheering and chanting of the crowd, which consisted of many school children who seemed to stop by on the way home from school, contributed to the upbeat, festive mood. In somewhat uncharacteristic fashion, a smiling Pe’er signed autographs and posed for selfies.

Glushko battled Kontaveit in a slugfest, coming out on top in straight sets.

Captain Tzipi Obziler used each changeover for coaching and words of encouragement to a worn Glushko.

“She was a little tense, and was under a lot of pressure,” observed Israel coach Sandra Wasserman, describing the hour and eight minute match.

The crowd, which required several warnings from the chair to quiet down, helped both players.

Team Israel has spent long days at the Eilat Tennis Center.

Wednesday’s doubles match against Turkey ended just before 11 p.m.

Among the die-hard fans who stayed until the end to cheer on the Israeli doubles team were a group of 8-14 year old female athletes from Athena, Israel’s project for the promotion of women’s sports in Israel.

Mary Pierce, a former third-ranked Grand Slam champion and recently elected board member of the International Tennis Federation, presented a clinic, shared her personal story, and entertained questions Thursday morning at Eilat’s Isrotel Tennis Club.

The Israel team took a break from an early afternoon practice on Center Court on Thursday to participate in the Fed Cup official Opening Ceremony. Each team filed in to Center Court behind country flags. Players, captains and coaches were all introduced by name.

Read more

Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel got Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I action in Eilat off to a losing start on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to Turkey.

Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko lost their singles matches to open the day before teaming up to win the doubles encounter.

Israel will be back in action on Thursday when it faces Estonia before coming up against Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will play-off against the winner of Pool C for a place in the World Group II playoffs in Eilat on Saturday, while the bottom-placed nation will play-off to determine relegation to Europe/ Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

The stars seemed aligned and the script already written by the time Pe’er, ranked 189th in the world, took Center Court on a sunny, warm, slightly breezy Wednesday for her evening session match against Turkey’s Ipek Soylu.

Despite Soylu’s slightly better ranking of 161, Pe’er is nine years older, has Fed Cup experience, and reached a career high of 11th in the world.

Pe’er also had the crowd on her side, with school children from Eilat filling the stands and cheering, “Let’s go Shahar, let’s go.”

Soylu got off to a quick 3-0 lead until Pe’er hit her groove, regained composure and won the first set in 50 minutes, 7-5. However, Soylu went on to win the second set 6-3 and the decisive set 6-2 to claim the match.

Israel’s No. 1 Glushko (No. 126) took the court under the lights versus Caglia Buyukackcay (142). Shouts of “El, el Yisrael” and “Let’s go Julia, let’s go!” helped Glushko get off to a 3-2 lead, but she could not sustain the rhythm in falling 7-5, 6-3.

The evening ended with the Pool C doubles match between Turkey and Israel, with Pe’er and Glushko partnering to take on Buyukakcay and Basak Eraydin.

After trading back-and-forth 7-5 sets, Israel clinched the win with 6-4 in the decisive set.

The Arkia Airlines gate and flight attendants at Ben Gurion Airport hardly realized there was a major international tennis tournament taking place in Eilat this week.

Yet, professional women tennis players from 14 countries, as well as coaches, umpires, members of the media and International Tennis Federation staff members have all congregated at the Municipal Tennis Center in Eilat, home of the Fed Cup 2016 Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tournament.

Tzipi Obziler, the Israeli captain, is a former Fed Cup player, representing Israel from 1994 to 2009. Israel’s team is coached by Sandra Wasserman, a former member of the Belgium Fed Cup team who reached a high of 48 in the WTA rankings as a player.

Obziler acknowledged that “it’s been a while, but to be a part of the Fed Cup team for the 17th year and first time as a captain means a lot to me. To hear again the national anthem, to wear again the Israeli flag on the back are very emotional things for me and I can only think about doing the best we can on and off court at any time.”

The tournament features two daily sessions through Saturday.

Read more

Original Article in The New York Jewish Week

Eight brave young adults with disabilities from across the United States traveled to Israel over winter break as part of Ramah Israel Institute’s Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip. Most of this year’s travelers are current participants in or recent graduates of the various vocational training programs at Ramah camps. They are in transition to the world of work and, in some cases, moving from their parents’ homes to other living environments. Their itinerary included many of the sites and experiences of a “standard 10-day Israel trip” and a whole lot more.

Ramah offers a Tikvah Israel trip every two years.

This year’s trip, the fifth to date, included must-see destinations such as the Kotel and Har Herzl in Jerusalem, Independence Hall and Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv, Har Bental on the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee. Like previous trips, this trip also took into consideration the unique needs of young adults with disabilities.

In planning Tikvah Israel trips, we create opportunities to help participants gain experiences navigating the world, including self-care, independent living, group dining, food preparation, shopping and more. The unique itinerary masterfully weaves tourist attractions with opportunities to socialize with Israeli friends, often in their homes, and experience Israel through all senses.

A day touring the Old City of Jerusalem, for example, was followed by the group going to various restaurants to order food and dine in small groups. For some meals, we went to (kosher!) food courts at shopping malls and made decisions about what we wanted, within our 40 shekel per person budget. Other days, we purchased an assortment of picnic ingredients and made lunch ourselves.

A trip to visit friends for dinner in their Beit Shemesh home one Thursday evening was preceded by a visit to a large supermarket, where we observed people shopping for Shabbat. We divided into committees, brainstormed foods we might serve guests at a Friday night oneg Shabbat, and went down the aisles in search of the items. We then used Israeli money and interacted with the sales clerks as wepaid.

On visits to homes of friends in Aseret and Kibbutz Alumot (overlooking the Galil), participants learned to bring a host gift, to navigate buffet lines and to have conversations around a big table. We sometimes ate outside under a grapefruit or avocado tree, and we learned that Israeli toilets have two flushers — to save water!

In Givat Zeev (Jerusalem), we serenaded our host, Avram, a longtime advisor in our vocational training program at Ramah New England, and his bride to be, Liron, with singing and dancing. (We returned to the U.S. two days before their wedding.)

While some participants took in much of what our excellent tour guide, Rabbi Ed Snitkoff, Director of Ramah Israel Seminar, shared with them through explanations, stories, songs, and visuals, others connected with Israel through many handson experiences. We baked pita bread on a taboon (outdoor oven) and picked hydroponic lettuce at Kibbutz Tzuba before taking a tour of their accessible nature area.

We visited and played with guide dogs in training at the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind in Beit Oved; we picked beets as part of Leket Israel, The National Food Bank. Our hands turned purple from beet juice, we got mud on our shoes and we interacted for more than an hour with a lovely Birthright group who also came to pick beets. Some participants connected with Israel through climbing into caves at Beit Guvrin and helping excavate at the archaeological “Dig for a Day.” Others enjoyed planting a large olive tree at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory, just outside the Knesset.

A highlight for some participants was spending half a day working in the zoo and farm at Kibbutz Shluchot. Some used pitchforks to bale hay; others recycled food and vegetables from the dining room to be used as feed for the farm animals. Some of us actually had the opportunity to feed monkeys; others gathered eggs. Everyone enjoyed a relaxing pre-Shabbat visit to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo and a make-your-own picnic lunch on the grass overlooking the ducks and baboons.

Some meals were opportunities to enjoy delicious food while also seeing the amazing talents of people with disabilities. At Jerusalem’s Shekel Café, we enjoyed lunch prepared by workers with disabilities. We had a similar experience in the café of Beit Uri, in Givat Hamoreh in Afula. Beit Uri is home to 110 Jewish and Arab children, youth and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Going to Israel during a period of tension, uncertainty and occasional random violence can be unsettling. But participants on the Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip remained upbeat as they took in the traditional Israel trip sites, met Israeli friends in their homes, worked the land and ate delicious kosher food. These eight brave Ramahniks who happen to have disabilities are proof that people with disabilities — like all people — are capable of connecting with Israel on a very deep level.

Participant Ezra Fields-Meyer sums up his experience as follows: “The Israel trip I went on was great! It was so much fun! It was the best opportunity I have had in a lifetime! I loved going to the Biblical Zoo, Cinema City, the Kotel, the museums, the kibbutz, and much more!”

Rabbi Mitchell Cohen, National Ramah Director, observes, “These trips are so wonderful, not just because of the inspiration it they provides for the participants, but also as a statement that providing inclusive options for travel to Israel is not only possible but essential.” Rabbi Ed Snitkoff notes, “After guiding and teaching in Israel since 1980, I do not recall feeling as inspired as I do now, after taking part in this trip. What an amazing experience this was, to see Israel, God, Ramah, the Jewish people, and everyday life, through the eyes of incredibly special people.”

We look forward to our next Tikvah Ramah Israel Trip in two years and to a Tikvah Ramah FAMILY Trip this December. For details, please contact Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Director, at howard@campramah.org. For more information about Ramah Israel Institute’s programs for congregations, schools, and families, contact Moshe Gold, Director, atmoshe@ramah.co.il.

Read more