In a special guest post for Covenant Classroom, Covenant Award recipient and Director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network Howard Blas shares some of the latest and greatest creative and original educational programming from Israel and reminds us yet again how the land of our ancestors is truly the original Covenant classroom.

Making the Most of Any Ability and Increasing Self-Confidence, too

At Kibbutz Tzuba in the Judean Hills, 15 minutes from the center of Jerusalem, teens who are struggling academically can now participate in a farming program where they learn skills and enjoy the feeling of success beyond the classroom walls. The founder of the program, Alon Greenboim (everyone calls him “Jumba,”) knows first-hand how traditional classrooms may not the learning environment of choice for everyone–but that everyone can learn by doing.

When he was a young boy, Jumba was assigned to work in the kibbutz apple orchard. There, he needed a ladder to reach the apples. He told himself then that if he were ever in charge, he would figure out a way to get the trees to grow horizontally so that shorter people would not need to climb a ladder to pick apples off the trees. Sure enough, today the entire apple orchard at Kibbutz Tzuba is made up of trees that grow out, not up.

It is this type of ingenuity that has allowed Jumba to grow a multi-million dollar agricultural business and also help young people who haven’t found their footing in traditional school, to accomplish and achieve in ways they never thought possible.

Thanks to a new program, Gdolim Bemadim, Special in Uniform, people with a wide range of disabilities can now serve in the IDF. In areas such as logistics, printing, supply rooms, food service, computers and more, this program allows soldiers with disabilities to build self-esteem, and the typical soldiers benefit as well. Yossi Kahana, Director of JNF (Jewish National Fund) Task Force on Disabilities and co-founder of the program, believes strongly that “if every soldier in the IDF had the opportunity to work side by side with people with disabilities, the potential to change attitudes in Israeli society [would be] tremendous.”

Learning Sensitivity and Compassion in the Dark

It is hard to give people a sense of what it might be like to experience life with a disability. But now, thanks to the Dialogue in the Dark program at the Israel Children’s Museum in Holon, visitors can experience a taste of what it’s like to be blind. Guides who are either visually impaired or blind lead visitors through the exhibit (which includes a port, market, pub and noisy pedestrian crossing)–and engage them in conversation about disability, coping and life in general. To cap off the experience, Nalagaat Blackout Restaurant (at The Na Laga’at Center, Ratzif HaAliya Hashnia, Jaffa Port), a short 3.5 miles (6 km) away, offers an opportunity to experience and enjoy a delicious kosher dinner in total darkness, served and guided by blind wait staff.

Teaching Peace… One Serve at a Time

Can coexistence be taught on the tennis court? Since the 1970’s, the Israel Tennis Center has been doing just that, through its Israel Tennis Centers (ITC) Coexistence Tennis Programs. The ITC aims to alter negative perceptions while instilling positive ones, through joint sporting activities held for Jewish, Arab, Druze and Bedouin children. Twinned kindergarten classes organized through the ITC bring together 60 children from an Arab kindergarten and a Jewish kindergarten weekly on one court, where they learn motor skills development and participate in sports activities at the ITC centers in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Akko.

Another ITC program, called “Doubles Coexistence,” pairs Arab and Jewish children as partners on the tennis court and encourages them to interact on and off the court, thereby building a bridge between the different cultures.

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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.

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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.

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