Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post, Newspaper Articles

On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Peer joined mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate opening of coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center.

On a sunny Sunday this past June, world No. 17 Shahar Peer joined the mayor of Akko and other dignitaries to celebrate the opening of the coastal city’s new Israel Tennis Center. The day concluded with an exciting exhibition game between Peer and 19-year-old Ofri Lankri, one of Israel’s up-and-coming tennis players.

The day was a celebration for Israel Tennis Centers throughout the country, long known for their programs geared toward children at risk and with special needs, and for strengthening coexistence between young Jews and Arabs.

The 14 Israel Tennis Centers totaling 178 tennis courts from Kiryat Shemona to Yokneam also strive to promote and develop world class Israeli tennis players.

They serve as the training ground for the next generation of Shahar Peers, Dudi Selas, Andy Rams, Yoni Erlichs and Harel Levys.

The Jerusalem Post recently caught up with Ram at the Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, and with Sela and Peer at the US Open in New York, to shine some light on the recent progress among Israel’s future tennis superstars.

Ram, who has focused on his doubles game recently, sees a tremendous gap between the generation of Amos Mansdorf and the generation of Erlich, Sela, Peer and himself.

We played at the Israel Tennis Centers for many years, he said. I played in Ramat HaSharon. We are in the process of building the next generation of Israeli tennis players. It will come, and there will be Israeli tennis.

While Ram is somewhat hopeful about Israel’s longterm tennis future, Sela and Peer are less optimistic.

There is nobody behind us, Sela said, going on to blame the lack of young upand- comers for the fact that many of the coaches have left for overseas.

Sela did acknowledge several young Russian-born Israelis, however, seeing promise in 14-year-old Valeria Patiuk (currently world No. 330 for juniors) and 15- year-old Igor Smilansky (No. 747 in the world). But he is not sure whether Israeli will produce world-class players in the near future.

Peer agreed, saying, unfortunately, there is not much coming up. I just know one girl who is 14 [Patiuk] that they are talking about her, that she’s pretty good.

But Peer offered a partial explanation for what appears to be a somewhat dim future for Israeli tennis.

You know, we are a very small country that were trying to invest in sport, but we have other things to take care of, she said.

Every ten years comes a new player… I hope in the future we will have some good players.

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Original Articles Published On The Jerusalem Post, Newspaper Articles

Turn the conversation to the upcoming Davis Cup World Group Playoffs and the tennis champs’ eyes light up.

NEW YORK Ask Andy Ram and Dudi Sela about their tennis successes these past few weeks, and they don’t have much to say.

However, turn the conversation to the upcoming Davis Cup World Group Playoffs at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, September 16-19, and their eyes light up.

Ram and Sela have spent the past few weeks playing tournaments in the United States. Ram and his current doubles partner, Julian Knowle of Austria, reached the semifinals at the Pilot Pen in New Haven, Connecticut.

They then lost a very close first-round match at the US Open to Ram’s close friend and long-time doubles partner, Yoni Erlich (and Jordan Kerr of Australia), 7-5, 6-7, 7-6.

In US Open mixed doubles, sixth-seeded Ram and Elena Vesnina won their first round match against Americans Eric Butorac and Raquel Kops-Jones, but lost in the second round to Mark Knowles and Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

Sela won his first round match in the US Open singles draw against Belgian Xavier Malisse 7-6, 7-5, 6-2, but lost his second-round match to 12th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny, 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.

In a post-match interview following his loss to Youzhny, Sela told The Jerusalem Post, I didn’t play too well in the first two sets – I wasn’t too aggressive, I just waited for him.

In the third set, I was more free.

Sela noted several bad line calls, and also felt weather conditions contributed to a slower court.

I like it when the sun is out and the courts are faster.

Sela wishes the upcoming Davis Cup in Israel would be played outdoors.

The fact that we are playing indoors is better for Austria.

Yet, Sela understands the logic of the decision to play indoors, in an air-conditioned stadium which seats 11,000 as opposed to the much smaller Hod Hasharon national tennis center.

In response to a series of question by an Austrian journalist, Sela conceded, Austria is a very good team, and that [Jurgen] Melzer is a sure two points [win] for Austria he is a very good player, he is 15th in the world, and I lost to him on clay.

In response to the journalist’s question about what the Davis Cup means, Sela explained, “We on the Israeli team are all good friends, and we all support each other that’s why we did well last year against Russia.

Sela also explained the benefits of playing at home.

Having the crowd behind us gives a good feeling. It gives us confidence. We do better at home in front of thousands of screaming fans.

Sela empathizes with the Austrian team.

We once played in Chile the crowd was the worst. It won’t be easy for the Austrians the key is the crowd, and for us to fight hard and play well.

Ram is also looking forward to returning to Israel for the Davis Cup tie against Austria. Ram smiled as he exclaimed to the Post in New York Saturday, I will play against [current doubles partner] Julian [Knowle] it should be interesting Ram, too, is excited to return to Israel and play in front of 10,000 people.

Ram confidently noted, In Israel, we can beat anyone!

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Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post, Newspaper Articles

Watching Shahar Pe’er at US Open is a dream come true for the youngsters.

NEW YORK – For Gony Goldstein, Raz Moyal, and Dana Kamyshev, cheering for Shahar Peer on Court Four at her first-round US Open match was only one highlight of their week-long America tennis adventure.

The three young Israel tennis players, ages nine, 11 and 13, in the US as part of an Israel Children’s Centers tennis exhibition, enthusiastically cheered on Peer in her match against Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia.

The three young Israel tennis players, ages nine, 11 and 13, in the US as part of an Israel Children’s Centers tennis exhibition, enthusiastically cheered on Peer in her match against Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia.

Yaalah, Kadima, Shahar, Go Peer! they shouted from the stands on this sunny, 33-degree day.

When Peer was down 3-2 in the second set, a very confident Raz said, Shahar will beat her you will see.

Raz was right.

Despite some early serving difficulties and missed volleys, Peer rallied to beat the slicing Kostantic Tosic 6-4, 7-5.

Shahar is my favorite, reports Dana, who plays in a competitive tennis program at the Tennis Center in Haifa.

I like her strong character she doesn’t give up. I remember once she was down 5-0 and came back to win.

Goni, who lives in Tel Aviv and players regularly at the Israel Tennis Center in South Tel Aviv, is struck by how everything in America is so big.

Goni loves Peer and adds, I also love Roddick, Sharapova, Davydenko and Venus Williams, the knowledgeable nine-year-old reports.

Goni was initially spotted by the same coach who recognized Peer’s potential, and she has even hit tennis balls with Peer.

Raz Moyal, from Ofakim, was jealous of his brother, who got to play tennis. One day, his father offered him the chance to play.

It was very fun, noted Raz, who diplomatically claimed Peer is his favorite player. I just love her, she is a very good player.

But the smiley youngster adds, I also love Nadal, he is short like me, he is a lefty like me, and I look like him. People call me Nadal.

This group of young tennis players, representing three of Israel’s fourteen tennis centers, was accompanied by coach Ron Becker, Israel Children’s Center Executive Director Jeff Dannick, and Israeli Development Associate Yoni Yair.

They returned home to Israel late Monday night and would not be around to cheer on Israel’s Dudi Sela, Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich.

Sela will play singles later in the week, and Ram and Erlich, doubles partners before Erlich’s elbow injury, will play against each other in doubles in the first round of the US Open.

In an interview following a doubles match at last week’s Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven, Connecticut, Ram shared his thoughts on the future of Israeli tennis.

After Amos Mansdorf, there was a 10-year hole.

Then came Peer, Sela, Erlich and me. We played at the Israel Tennis Centers for many years. I played in Ramat HaSharon. We are in the process of building the next generation of Israeli tennis players. It will come and there will be Israeli tennis.

Dannick points to a number of 7-through-12-year old up and comers in Israel, and he draws special attention to 14 year old Valeria Patiuk, currently ranked 330th in the world for juniors, and to 15-year old Igor Smilansky, ranked No. 747 in the world.

The combination of skills and size is hard to come by these two have both, reports Dannick, who notes, Israel has six or seven of the top 1,000 men in the world and three or four of the top 1,000 women in the world.

Israelis, Jews around the world, and die-hard tennis fans will spend the next two weeks watching Peer, Sela, Ram and Erlich (Noam Okun and Harel Levy played in the qualifiers for the US Open but failed to earn a spot in the main draw) and wonder about the future of Israeli tennis.

Gony, Raz and Dana might represent exactly that.

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

With the exception of King David, Samson and members of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews have not historically been viewed as great fighters. Enter Yuri Foreman – a Russian-born, Israeli boxer who is also studying to become an Orthodox rabbi!

The 29-year-old professional Jewish boxer recently spent Shabbat in New York City. As soon as he made havdalah and ended Shabbat, he was quickly driven to the world famous Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, where he was scheduled to take on Miguel Cotto in a 12 round, super welterweight championship fight. The fight was scheduled to start at the unusually late time of 10:15p.m – to accommodate his Sabbath observance.

In an HBO interview, Foreman, dressed casually and sporting one of his trademark cool hats, said, I am the first Jewish world champion to also be connected to religion, and to be studying to be a rabbi. The rabbinical student was thinking of yet another Jewish fighter. On my way to a fight, I always have in mind that Jewish history produced a lot of fighters, perhaps not prize fighters, but throughout the Bible there were a lot of tremendous fighters. For example, Abraham was spiritual, but at the same time was no stranger to the sword.

Foreman was born in the town of Gomel in Belarus. He lived in a very small apartment with his parents, grandmother, uncle, aunt and cousin. He started off as a swimmer, and the thin, not-particularly-muscular Foreman used to get picked on daily.

One day, after getting beaten up badly by bullies, his mother walked in to a boxing gym and demanded that the teacher make a man out of her seven-year-old son. At age nine, Yuri and his family moved to Israel, where the new immigrants were quite poor. At first, Yuri had a hard time fitting in – he was learning a new language, he had an accent, and he was self-conscious about how little his family had in his new country.

Yuri started boxing at a predominantly Arab gym. The facilities weren’t great, and there wasn’t a lot of equipment.

Yuri began to wonder if he would ever make it as a boxer. His life was taking a downward turn; his mother died, and he figured he would end up working with his father doing odd jobs or on a factory line. However, Yuri persevered, and managed to win three national boxing championships in Israel. He then decided that if he ever wanted to have a shot at making it big, he would need to leave Israel and train elsewhere.

Yuri moved to Brooklyn, New York and stayed with one of his former Israeli trainers. By day he worked in the garment district of Manhattan as a delivery boy and store cleaner. He trained each night at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, where he eventually met his wife, Leyla Leidecker, a former model and amateur boxer herself! The two were searching for meaning and decided to check out a Kabbalah class. By total coincidence, the rabbi at the class suggested that life is like a boxing match! He went on to explain, As long as you are upright and breathing, there is still a chance to win! Yuri was inspired, and made a strong connection with the rabbi; so strong, in fact, that Foreman decided to embark on the long journey to become an Orthodox rabbi.

How does Foreman reconcile being both a yeshiva student and a boxer? In an interview with a local daily paper, Foreman said, Boxing is sometimes spiritual in its own way. You have physical and mental challenges in boxing, just like you have lots of challenges in exploring the different levels of Judaism. They are different but the same. Many who have seen the 66 kilo, clean shaven, handsome Foreman in person, or on one of the many American TV shows on which he has appeared, find it hard to believe that this slight, soft-spoken gentleman is also a boxer.

Foreman certainly is a champion and quite tough in the ring. He is often described as a perimeter boxer. As an amateur boxer, Foreman had an impressive 75-5 record and in 2001 won the New York Golden Gloves competition. He turned pro in 2002 and, prior to the Cotto fight, was undefeated in 29 matches. Foreman insists all the success and attention has not changed who he is. Listen, everything stays the same. When I come home and my wife tells me to do the chores, I do them. I still have the same friends, I still take out the garbage, and I still ride my bicycle to the gym for my workouts.

In the days and weeks leading up to the fight, Foreman attended a Yankees game, appeared in several TV shows and served as Grand Marshall for New York City’s Salute to Israel Parade.

On the night of the big Miguel Cotto fight, Foreman entered the ring wearing his traditional Star of David boxing trunks. Following Hatikvah, Hava Nagilah and the sounding of the shofar, Foreman entered. He fought hard but sadly, he tripped in the seventh round, injuring his ankle and knee. Foreman wasn’t the same after that. In the ninth round, he went down and the referees stopped the fight and awarded a TKO, a technical knock out, to Cotto.

Foreman may have lost his first professional fight but, keep an eye out, as the 29-1 raging rabbinical student is sure to be back!

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