With a cadre of middle-aged Jewish male fans, feisty Sharon Fichman is hopeful for her upcoming women’s doubles match

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York — On the court at the US Open in Flushing Meadows, 22-year-old Canadian Sharon Fichman is a hard-hitting, feisty, grunting right-handed baseliner who packs a lot of punch into her 5 foot, 4 inch (1.63 meters) frame. Her fighting spirit and determination helped the number two seed as she battled through three matches in the US Open qualifying tournament last week.

There, Fichman earned one of the 128 coveted spots in the US Open 2013 Women’s draw, unlike Israeli star Shahar Peer, the number one seed in the “qualies,” who lost her first round match in straight sets to Russian Ksenia Pervak 6-4, 7-6 and did not make the main draw for singles. Peer will play doubles with Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain.

At a career-high rank of 95 in the world, and despite being relatively unknown outside of her native Canada, Fichman attracts a small group of loyal followers. These mostly middle-aged Jewish men from New York city chant courtside, “Go, Sharon!” throughout her matches and appear to know a great deal about the Jewish players and coaches represented at the US Open.

One Fichman fan sees my Times of Israel media credentials, grabs the daily schedule of matches from my hands, and points out all players with a Jewish connection: “Julia Cohen is half Jewish; Camille Giorgi is Jewish; Youzny is maybe a quarter Jewish but his Russian coach is a proud Jew…” Nachas.

Fichman’s own parents are not in the crowd; she matter-of-factly reports in a post-match interview that her nuclear engineer father, Bobby, and computer engineer mother, Julia, have already used up their vacation time.

Fichman was born in Toronto in 1990, where she was also raised, but is currently training in Vancouver with coach Larry Jurovich. Her Romanian-born parents moved to Israel in 1982, then to Canada in 1989. Fichman began playing tennis at age 6.

“I come from a tennis family — my dad played in the nationals in Romania, my mother loved playing tennis recreationally and my older brother, Thomas, plays tennis. We had a club near our house and I was good at tennis right away.”

In 2004, when she was 13, Fichman won the prestigious Orange Bowl juniors title and was the world’s number two player in her age group. The same year she was Canada’s under-18 Indoor and Outdoor National girls champion. By 14 she had won the gold medal for tennis singles at the 17th Maccabiah Games, where she also won a silver in mixed doubles and a bronze in women’s doubles.

“I got really sick when the week of the Maccabiah Games started,” she vividly recalls.

Fichman has been to Israel many times. “I really love Israel — it is an amazing place. I have dual citizenship, and I have lots of family — aunts, uncles, cousins and nephews in Israel.”

She had a very successful 2006 with doubles victories in both the junior Australian and French opens; she reached the quarter finals in singles and the finals in doubles at the junior US Open later that year. In October of 2006, Fichman began beating some of the world’s top ranked players including Hana Sromova (114).

Fichman turned pro in 2007 and managed to defeat the world’s #90, Stephanie Cohen-Aloro. Later, in 2012, Fichman’s competed in Challenger tournaments and her rankings began to climb — from 239 in July to 153 in December.

Most recently, Fichman has achieved some success in her native Canada

Most recently, She has achieved some success in her native Canada. At the Rogers Cup in Toronto earlier this month, Fichman, then ranked 104, reached the second round in singles and made it to the semifinals for doubles.

With a career win/lost record of 234 and 148, she has earned $85,383 so far this year, with a career net of $338,643.

Following Fichman’s three wins in the US Open qualifiers, she faced Romanian Sorana Cirstea, ranked 22 in the world and the tournament’s 19th seed.

Asked in a post-match interview about facing another player of Romanian descent in the first round, she playfully said, “I’ve known Sorana since we were 11 years old. We’ve played so many times. We met at age 13 or 14 in the finals at the Orange Bowl — it’s not weird at all. We grew up together and we’re friends.”

Cirstea defeated Fichman 7-5, 5-7, 6-1.

“I had a lot of opportunities but I didn’t connect on the break points. I felt I played pretty well for the most part.”

Fichman is intensely focused on her tennis career, which often requires 35 to 40 weeks of travel per year.

“It’s hard to find another passion when I am in one,” she said, but speaks of her love for cooking and baking, the outdoors (walks, hiking and fishing) and of possible future professional interests including business, finance, real estate, and interior design.

But for now, it’s back to tennis. Despite her loss in the singles, Fichman and fellow Canadian Aleksandra Wosniack are in the main draw for  the US Open women’s doubles, where Fichman is currently ranked 89 in the world. (Fichman and Wosniack were scheduled to face wildcards Allie Kiick and Sachia Vickery, both of the United States, on Wednesday, but the match was postponed due to rain.)

Fichman is optimistic. “This is the best I’ve done as a pro — the best is yet to come!”

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

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FLUSHING, New York – A handful of Israeli players fought for the chance to qualify for the prestigious U.S Open Grand Slam tennis tournament, which began plan on August 26 and will wrap up on Sept. 9. The U.S. Open is the world’s highest attending sporting event, with more than 700,000 fans expected to attend.

Dudi Sela, ranked 76 in the world and a member of Israel’s Davis Cup team, automatically qualified for the main draw of the tournament. In the week leading up to the Open, Sela participated in an Israel Tennis Center clinic in Manhattan, playfully rallyng with New York Junior Tennis League tennis students, as well as with nine-year-old Israeli hopeful Neria Yona. Sela arrived a week early to the Open to practice with his coach and other main draw players, and to watch countryman Amir Weintraub’s third round qualifying match. Sela won two Challenger tournaments this summer and has acclimated to his new Wilson Blade tennis racket; he switched rackets several months ago and reports, “I had a tough time getting adjusted to my new racket.”

On opening day, Sela took on Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia in a nail-biting match. Sela was down 4-1 in the first set, but battled back to take it 7-6. He then won the second set 6-3, but lost next two sets 6-7 and 5-7. With the men tied at two sets each – and with his countrymen and Open doubles players Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich in the stands – Sela won the fifth set 6-4 for the match. Exhausted, he fell to the ground, then stood up and proceeded to pose with every single fan seeking a photo and/or an autograph.

Julia Glushko won her first round match .

Julia Glushko, who played in last year’s U.S. Open and is currently ranked 128, battled her way through three matches in the qualifiers to earn a spot on the main draw.  She won her first match on August 27 against 20th seed Nadia Petrova of Russia. While Glushko needed three qualifying round wins to make the main draw, coach Liran Kling, in an interview with the Ledger following her first round qualifiers match, noted proudly, “Now, people expect Julia to qualify [for the main draw of major tournaments]; it is not like last year when she was a surprise.”

Weintraub, ranked 188 and also a member of the Davis Cup team, spent three weeks in New England this summer playing for the Boston Lobsters World Team Tennis team. He won two matches in the qualifying tournament, which took place the week before the Open, but in the third round match, a 6-4, 6-2 loss to Argentinean Maximo Gonzalez prevented him from making the main draw.

Shahar Peer, ranked 79 and coming off her first tournament win in four years with a victory over 19-year-old Saisai Zheng of China at the Caoxijiu Suzhou Ladies Open, was the number one seed in the qualifiers. Peer, whose up and down career has taken her as high as number 11 in the world, suffered a disappointing 6-4, 7-6 defeat in the first round of the qualifiers to Russian Ksenia Pervak.

Also getting ready for their first-round matches, as the Ledger went to press, were doubles partners Ram and Erlich, as well as Shahar Peer, who was scheduled to play womens doubles. One Israeli junior, Or Ram-Harel, may attempt to qualify for the juniors main draw.

Once again this year, kosher tennis fans will be able to feast at the open, thanks to New Jersey resident Jonathan Katz, owner and operator of Kosher Sports, and his staff, who will be operating a cart outside of court 12.

The Kosher Grill cart at the US Open is a popular food stop for fans.

“This is our tenth U.S. Open,” Katz told the Ledger. Among the items diners will find on his cart: chipotle chicken wrap, crispy chicken wrap, Italian sausage with peppers and onions, sliced steak sandwich, knishes, franks, and overstuffed pastrami sandwiches. All meats are Glatt kosher and all breads are Pas Yisrael; the cart is under supervision of the Star-K and will be open each day of the Open, except Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah.

Katz was not particularly concerned about loss of business due to the Jewish holidays.  “We’ve had Rosh Hashanah fall during the US Open before. He says, “The main factor affecting sales is the weather!”  The cart closes at 4 pm on Fridays.  Katz concludes, “We are looking forward to another successful US Open!”

(Source: http://www.jewishledger.com)

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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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The month leading up to the camp season is action-packed, a bit stressful and most of all—exciting. In less than a month, hundreds of campers with a range of disabilities will arrive at Jewish summer camps across North America.  While the off-season is similarly busy with hiring staff, interviewing prospective campers, planning programs, attending conferences and staff trainings with Camp Ramah colleagues, it allows some time for reflection on our work, and for considering expansion, refinements and new directions—both within our own Ramah camping movement and in the larger Jewish camping world.

The entire Ramah community eagerly awaited the survey conducted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and Laszlo Strategies called “Preliminary Research on Special Needs in Jewish Overnight Camp.” One key finding was that “the majority of those involved in camp – including staff, campers, and parents – care about this issue and agree that every Jewish child, regardless of a disability or special need, should be able to attend a Jewish camp.  Most involved prefer an inclusion model, with clear recognition that not every camp is able to serve every need…”

We in the Ramah camping movement have been providing overnight, day and family camping and vocational training opportunities to children and young adults with a wide range of disabilities since 1970, when the first Tikvah Program was started in Glen Spey, New York, and soon after relocated to Camp Ramah in New England in Palmer, MA.

Our experience in our eight Ramah camps in the US and Canada has shown the importance of offering a wide range of models and programs as “one size certainly does not fit all.” For example:
● Breira b’Ramah at Ramah Berkshires offers a full inclusion program
● Ramah Outdoor Adventure Program in the Rockies offers Tikvah, where campers with a range of disabilities participate in the same challenging outdoor activities (mountain climbing, horseback riding and more) as their neurotypical peers
● Ramah California now has a dedicated Tikvah educator charged with creating inclusive opportunities for Tikvah campers and with educating the entire camp community about disabilities
● Ramah Wisconsin offers camping and vocational training opportunities to campers with Asperger’s Syndrome and other disabilities alongside their neurotypical peers.  They share adjoining bunks, put on a joint play and more.

Now, Ramah Wisconsin is pleased to introduce Tzofeh, a full inclusion program for incoming 4th-6th grade campers, as well as for 7th-11th grade campers requiring additional support with a range of disabilities related to social skills, speech, language and executive functioning.

The FJC/Laszlo survey is a welcome reminder that there is still work to be done, and campers to be served.  We in the Jewish camping world should continue rising to the challenge of creating a range of programs offering different models and serving a wide range of disabilities.

We at Camp Ramah are proud of our 43 years of work in the field and we look forward to continuing to grow and serve.

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