Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

Israelis Gony Goldstein, Raz Moyal and Dana Kamyshev recently enjoyed a week-long United States tennis adventure. The three young tennis players, representing Israel Children’s Centers, were invited to the United States to play in tennis exhibitions in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and in various towns in Long Island, New York. On their last day, they sat in the first row at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, cheering for their favorite home grown hero, Israeli tennis champion, Shahar Peer!

The three young Israel tennis players cheered on Peer in her match against Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia. Yaalah, Kadima, Shahar Shahar Peer! they shouted from the stands. 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, said 13 year old 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. Dana, who was born in Russia and speaks Hebrew, Russian and English, shyly told Dash that she is one of Israel’s top ten players in the 14 and under age group.

Gony, age 9, lives in Tel Aviv and plays regularly at the Israel Tennis Center in South Tel Aviv. The trip was her first time in America. It is so much fun to be here. Everything here is so big! While Gony diplomatically stated that she loves Peer and male Israeli player, Dudi Sela, she was quick to add, I also love (Andy) Roddick, (Maria) Sharapova, (Nikolay) Davydenko and Venus Williams! Gony was initially spotted by the same coach who recognized Peer’s potential. She has even had a hit on the court with Peer. Her coach said that, Gony is a very special young girl who really enjoys training. Most importantly, she tries her best in every lesson. Gony is very clever on the court and she is already proving to be a great athlete. Gony, a fairly typical nine year old who also loves to sing, dance and play with animals, started playing tennis at age six and plays five times a week.

For Raz Moyal, an 11 year old boy from Ofakim in the south of Israel, this visit was his third trip to the United States. He has three brothers, aged 15, three and six months old, and came once to celebrate his brother’s bar mitzvah. Los Angeles is my favorite place! We stayed in a great big house and it was lots of fun! passionately follows his favorite team, Beitar Jerusalem. Above and beyond all of that, however, it’s clear that tennis is by far his favorite pastime. I started playing when I was seven and a half, he said. Raz’s father knew it was time to introduce Raz to tennis. My brother was playing and I was sad that I didn’t get to play. One day, my dad asked, Do you want to go? I did and I loved it! Raz thinks of the tennis center as a second home. The Tennis Center is like a kibbutz, where everyone knows everyone.

It is like a family where we can all hang out together, on and off the court, and enjoy our friendships. When asked who his favorite player was, the smiley youngster said he loves Peer but added, I also love (Rafael) Nadal. He is short and a lefty like me, and I look like him! People call me Nadal! Raz enjoys tennis so much that he and his dad came up with a special plan when the Ofakim courts were closed during the Gaza War. When we couldn’t go to the center and play, it was like someone came along and ripped our hearts out, Raz said. His father saw how sad and upset Raz was, so they jumped the fence and played! Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want my Dad and me to get in trouble. I love my Tennis Center.

There are 14 Israel Tennis Centers across Israel, from Kiryat Shmona to Beersheva. The Israel Children’s Centers are more than just places for 9,000 young Israelis to learn the game. It is actually the largest social service organization in Israel and the largest tennis school in the world! According to Israeli Development Associate, Yoni Yair, who was also one of the groups chaperones, The Centers are very special and provide a warm family environment for thousands of kids all over Israel. They are safe places for meeting new friends, getting an education and keeping the kids off the streets. Our tennis centers are safe places that help kids to grow up right. While Yair and the rest of the staff are all delighted by the success of some of the centers tennis players, he noted that, “Tennis is simply the vehicle that brings the kids to the tennis centers. While in America, the young tennis players were also accompanied by Coach Ron Becker and Israel Children’s Center Executive Director, Jeff Dannick. They returned home to Israel shortly after the Peer match.

Will Gony, Raz and Dana be the next Dudi Sela or Shahar Peer? That is hard to know, but one can be certain that they will grow up to be lovers of tennis and wonderful human beings.

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Aaron Rudolph’s drive to work from his home in West Hartford to the Walgreen’s Distribution Center in Windsor is usually uneventful. Having special needs and landing a meaningful job often poses more of a challenge.

Rudolph is one of the lucky ones. A story in the Hartford Courant five years ago about a yet-to-be-built Walgreens facility, a meeting with a job counselor at the Bureau of Rehab Services in Hartford, and a drop of good fortune were all part of the young man’s journey toward meaningful employment.

After graduating from high school, Rudolph began a one-year food service training program at Manchester Community College. He was then connected to a job counselor, which led to some work in food services. A job counselor was impressed with his work and suggested that Rudolph might be a good candidate for the Walgreen’s program. Following an interview to assess his job and social skills, and a nine-week, eight-hour a day unpaid training program in different areas of potential employment, followed by nine-week training stints, Rudolph was ultimately hired by Walgreens.

The 24-year old West Hartford resident, who loves the Beatles, Beach Boys and You Tube, has been to Israel four times, and regularly attends The Emanuel Synagogue, recently celebrated his nine-month anniversary as a Walgreens’ employee. While initially hired to work in the AKL division (where he essentially moved quickly up and down the aisles filling orders), he was soon switched to “detrash,” where he rapidly opens boxes and transfers items to plastic bins and places them on a conveyer belt.

Rudolph works 40 hours per week, and has full benefits – like sick time, medical, dental, a 401K and stock options, and soon he will be eligible for two weeks paid vacation.

“When you think of people with cognitive disabilities, they are usually involved in menial jobs or they work in workshops-they often bag groceries or work a few hours a week. And you always worry about how secure the job is-especially during an economic downturn. At Walgreen’s, Aaron has the potential to be there a long time,” reports the young man’s mother, Alison Rudolph, who explains that her son has mild to high functioning autism.

Her son, she says, couldn’t be more proud of his work noting that he “always speaks up and enunciates” when asked about his work” and “never complains when he is asked to do mandatory overtime.”

Rudoph is, perhaps, a bit more candid in describing his work. “It is nice, but it has its tough moments!” he says. “Sometimes the boxes I open are pretty hard. When I open the plastic wrapping, sometimes it goes all over the floor-especially with the huge fan going!”

But he does enjoy the camaraderie of his fellow workers. “I get along with them, I have lunch with them, and we sometimes talk about our weekends,” he says. “I feel great working full time and I feel good about the job!”

“Aaron is a great employee,” Joe Wendover, Walgreens’ outreach manager at the Windsor Distribution Center, told the Ledger. “Hiring Aaron helps to show other employers that it is a good thing and the right thing to do.”

Walgreens invites other companies to tour their distribution center to see that it is truly possible to train and hire people with disabilities. “It is unfortunate that some employers can’t see past a disability,” says Wendover, who will participate in a panel on vocational training and employment at Advance: The Ruderman Jewish Special Needs Funders Conference to be held in New York City on Oct. 20 to discuss funding for special needs programs in the Jewish

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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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