israeli arab

PALMER, Mass. — Each summer, Camp Ramah in New England (CRNE) brings close to 60 post-army emissaries to serve as bunk counselors and teach in such specialty areas as dance, sports, swimming, nature, woodworking, Hebrew and Jewish Studies, ropes and krav maga. Campers and staff are accustomed to such names as Neta, Ela, Tal, Ofer…

This past summer, however, one young Israeli tennis player, who spent a week at Camp Ramah in Canada, followed by a few days at CRNE, turned a few heads with his unusual first and last name – Fahoum Fahoum.  “Fahoum means navon, like your division name, Nivonim, (the wise ones), the young visitor told a packed open-aired tent of 16-year-olds during an evening discussion at the Palmer, Mass. camp. The campers were captivated by Fahoum’s personal story and peppered him with questions about his life in Israel.

Fahoum loved growing up in Haifa. “Growing up as an Arab Muslim in Haifa was very special,” he says. “Haifa is known for its relationship between Arabs and Jews. I am thankful for growing up in Haifa because the environment gave me a better chance to integrate.”

Fahoum and his sister, Nadine Fahoum, were the first Israeli Arabs to attend the Reali School in Haifa. He credits his mother with the idea of sending him to the Israeli Jewish school but notes, “there were many concerns among our friends in the Arab community.”

“I believe the community was worried that the school would not be ready to welcome someone like me,” he recalls. “Along the years, people around saw how the support the Hebrew Reali School gave my sister and me, and how it nurtures its children. They actually became very curious about becoming a part of the Reali family as well.”

Fahoum says both he and his sister received a fine education and a wonderful introduction to tennis through their years at Reali. Nadine went on to play in such tournaments as the Juniors Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Olympics. Fahoum was the number one junior in Israel at age 14.  “Tennis is like a language.  It is used to communicate with others.  It is a common language,” observes Fahoum.

Nadine attended Old Dominion University in Virginia and ultimately transferred to Duke University, where she played #1 on the women’s tennis team.  Upon graduation, she went on to work in New York for the Israel Tennis Centers and is currently pursuing graduate studies at New York University.

Fahoum also began his college academic and tennis careers at Old Dominion; then transferred to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, where he played tennis and is pursuing  a communications major and business minor. He is interning at the Quinnipiac Alumni Association in the office of Public Affairs and Development. He hopes to attend graduate school at the Yale School of Management.

“I hope to accomplish mutual understanding and future between Arabs and Jews, using sports as a tool for communication,” he says.

During Fahoum’s stint at the two Ramah camps, he did a lot more than teach tennis. Bryan Gerson, head of the sports program at Camp Ramah in New England, observed, “Fahoum adds a professionalism-on and off the courts-with a great personality and a wonderful message of inclusion. Sally Klapper of Stamford, now a junior at Ramaz in Manhattan, called the experience of having an Israeli Arab at camp “eye opening.” “It was interesting to hear from someone who is so completely accepted into Israeli society,” she said.

Bringing an Israeli Arab to a Ramah camp is not an obvious move for an observant, Zionistic Jewish summer camp. Rabbi Mitch Cohen, the National Ramah Director, feels that bringing Nadine Fahoum to three of its eight Ramah camps in the United States and Canada is very important. “Bringing Fahoum to Camp Ramah helps to emphasize the importance of co-existence and tolerance of other people, especially at a time when Jewish-Muslim relations are so sensitive. Through tennis, and the great work of the Israel Tennis Center, Fahoum inspires us with his life story.”

And Fahoum couldn’t be more pleased with his time at Ramah camps.  “The visit really made me feel like home. I came to Ramah to learn more about the Jewish community abroad and share some of my experience and future goals with its members. My being in Ramah allowed the camp to have a more complete experience of Israel. After all, Israel is not all Jewish, so my visit helps complete the picture. I hope that after my visit, both campers and staff will have greater confidence in a mutual future between Arabs and Jews.”

Fahoum remains both realistic and hopeful as to the power of sports.  “Sports provides a tool for communication,” he notes. “Although Arabs and Jews live next to each other, they have no common language and therefore rarely integrate. Sports is a language in and of itself. Sports provides a common ground for different people from different backgrounds to integrate. Partnerships on the [tennis] court can lead to friendships off of it.”

Fahoum certainly thinks of one day returning home to Israel – but he remains both practical and realistic. “I will go back to Israel when I feel like I received enough support to begin establishing a concrete project back home.”


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Nadine Fahoum, a Muslim from Haifa, has become Israel’s unofficial ambassador off the court, and a phenom for Duke on it.

For Nadine Fahoum, serving as an ambassador for Israeli tennis and the State of Israel is a pleasure — though anything but straightforward. The 22-year-old Muslim Israeli-Arab from Haifa recently graduated from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, where she majored in business administration and received a certificate in marketing and management. While there she also found the time to rank number one in tennis singles and helped the Lady Blue Devils tennis team to a national ranking of number three.

Fahoum also served as a de facto Jewish studies teacher and spiritual adviser to three American Jewish teammates. “They asked me about the Jewish holidays and when the Yom Kippur fast begins and ends,” says Fahoum, who regularly visited the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and participated in campus groups such as “Peace or Pieces?” — a forum for Jewish and Muslim students’ “controversial issues.”

‘I was the only Arab kid in school until my brother enrolled in the same school a few years later’ 

Fahoum got an early start feeling comfortable in the Jewish world. Her parents — mother Wafa Zoabi, a lawyer, and father, Anan, a bakery owner — sent Nadine and her younger brother to Haifa’s prestigious Reali Hebrew School. “I was the only Arab kid in school until my brother enrolled in the same school a few years later.”

Her brother, Fahoum Fahoum, 20, has continued to follow in his sister’s footsteps. Fahoum currently studies economics and plays tennis at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia — the university Nadine transferred from to play tennis at Duke.

“When Fahoum was a junior, I took him and three Jewish kids to play in a tennis exhibition in Boca Raton, Florida,” recounts Shaul Zohar, manager of the Israel Tennis Center in Kiryat Shmona. “We were at a Shabbat dinner and the host asked, ‘Who wants to do the blessing over the wine?’ The three all said no — and so Fahoum did the kiddush!”

Nadine and Fahoum have represented Israel in over thirty countries — starting with her first tournament in France at age 14 and including Switzerland, Portugal, Greece, and India. And they are not told what to say on behalf of the State of Israel.

“I say what I think,” says the polite, soft-spoken Nadine. “I have heard both sides my whole life. We all want the same thing — to live in peace.”

“We need to find a solution as soon as possible. It is a tough situation. We have to start where we are and look forward, not backward, and move forward from here.”

When asked what she would recommend as a solution, she pauses, carefully considering her reply. “We must learn from an early age to live together, when we are not prejudiced. That is why programs like the coexistence programs at the Israel Tennis Center are so important.”

She explains how its initiatives, such as the Twinned Peace Kindergarten, bring children and their families together in meaningful ways. “They go to each other’s houses, do homework together and travel to tournaments together.”

It has not always been easy. Many years ago, at New York’s JFK airport, security officials noted Fahoum’s name and asked to inspect her luggage. Coach Zohar intervened and said, “We are all the same — if you check her bag, you must check all bags. Check all or leave her alone!’”  She was allowed to pass without inspection. Israeli security has subsequently invited Nadine’s mother to offer workshops to security personnel on how to treat minorities.

Nadine recently began working as a development associate in New York City for the ITC. “If there were 10,000 Nadines, the [Israeli-Arab] situation would be different,” says Zohar.

The Israel Tennis Center team: Jacqueline Glodstein, Nadine Fahoum and Shaul Zohar.

“I’m sure there are — we just have to identify them and have them speak up,” adds Nadine.

“We have to encourage them to speak up,” adds Jacqueline Glodstein, vice president of global development for Israel Tennis Center.

Nadine has been living with Glodstein and her family in their Long Island home for the past six months. The family, whose members have all spent significant time in Israel, has found it very enlightening. Glodstein says, “We never had an opportunity to get to know on an intimate basis an Arab Israeli Muslim. It was an amazing opportunity for all of us. Living together, you just begin to know each other in a very special way — you create relationships and bonds.” The Fahoum parents also stayed in the Glodstein home for a e week during a recent trip to the United States.

For now, it is back to work for Nadine. While she will be focusing on her ITC responsibilities, she will still manage to find time for tennis. “I love tennis — I will always play!”


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