Israeli tennis

Original Article at JNS

The Jewish Tennis Project is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide participants with the opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play, combining tennis instruction with education to instill a connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

Israeli tennis legends Shlomo Glickstein and Shahar Peer continue to represent Israel and the Jewish people on and off the court. The two top players were honored at a series of events in mid-March in South Florida marking the launch of the Jewish Tennis Project (JTP).

The JTP is a nonprofit foundation that seeks to provide Jewish tennis players an opportunity to train and reach a world-class, competitive level of play. The program combines tennis instruction with high-quality education geared to instill a deep connection to Jewish culture and Israel.

The idea grew out of a four-week visit to Hungary by Assaf Ingber, Israeli high-performance coach and former coach of Israeli tennis player Julia Glushko. Ingber spent a summer teaching tennis at Szarvas, a summer-camp program in Hungary that serves 1,600 children from 30 countries in a series of 12-day sessions.

“I heard the kids say what it means to them and how it changed their lives,” reports Ingber, referring to the sense of Jewish identity the participants gained at the camp, immersed in Jewish living and learning. Ingber reflected on his own experience as a child athlete: “When I was a player, all I did was play tennis, only hitting the ball.” He had little time to focus on Jewish culture and identity.

Ingber notes that “the JTP program combines top-level tennis, including the best facilities, atmosphere and tournaments, with a secular and Jewish education.” He is realistic in also noting the need to provide an education for the aspiring tennis players. “Just in case their children don’t become [Roger] Federer or Serena [Williams], they will have a tennis education, and a general and Jewish education.”

Israeli tennis pros Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein with chairman Ian Halperin and founder Assaf Ingber at the Pro-AM event in Aventura, Fla. Credit: Jewish Tennis Project.

The program is part of the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Fla. “It is such a good educational environment with great courts and gyms—and their Jewish identity won’t suffer,” says Ingber. “They won’t have to feel shy, scared or insecure to say they are Jewish.”

The program will initially support five or six students, including two Israelis, which Ingber feels will “help integration and make the program great.” The American students will also hear Hebrew and develop a connection with Israel. The goal of the program is to train 20 to 30 students into high-performance players in the first two years at bases in both Davie and Aventura, Fla. Programs will also take place in Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Brazil, serving a total of 500 young players at all levels. Participants will share Jewish experiences and travel to Israel.

‘Very positive, professional, educational project’

Shlomo Glickstein, who retired from professional tennis in 1988, reached a career-high singles’ ranking of World No. 22, played in all four tennis Grand Slams and reached the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1981, was on hand in Florida to play in a number of exhibition matches, as well as coach local children and greet supporters.

Glickstein served until recently as CEO of the Israel Tennis Association. He was approached by Ingber about potentially getting involved in a number of tennis-related projects. “I thought the JTP program was a very positive, professional, educational project, so I got involved,” he reports. He reiterates the goals of the program: “to give mainly Jewish American kids a chance to get to the top of the tennis world, to get a Jewish education and to connect to Israel. It will also give them an opportunity to connect to all of the Jewish people in Florida and elsewhere.”

Shahar Peer, 31 and five months pregnant, enjoyed participating in the JTP kickoff. “It was an honor to join the JTP at their event last weekend in Florida. I enjoyed sharing the court with Shlomo and coming out to support this important new program to develop Jewish tennis players. It is exciting that there is a program to focus on tennis skills, Jewish identity and connection to Israel.”

Peer reached the highest ranking of any Israeli tennis player in history: Her best singles’ ranking was No. 11; she reached No. 14 in doubles. She won five career singles and three doubles titles on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour. Peer retired from professional tennis in February 2017

Fans were impressed with Glickstein and Peer’s commitment to the new organization—and, of course, with their skills on the court. In a phone interview with JNS in Israel, Glickstein says he “plays sometimes,” noting that “you never forget how to play; it is still in your blood.”

He adds, “I can still hit the ball,” though concedes that it’s “a little harder on the legs. I don’t move as well as I used to!”

Canadian documentary filmmaker, writer and investigative journalist Ian Halperin was one of the honored guests at the March 16 weekend tennis event. He is the author and/or co-author of nine books about such celebrities as Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, James Taylor and Kurt Cobain. He recently served as executive producer of the movie, “Wish You Weren’t Here: The Dark Side of Roger Waters.”

Halperin shares that his father, a Holocaust survivor, had to hide in a hole when he was 6 years old to survive. “When Roger Waters said that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany, I couldn’t stand it.” He made the film about Waters, following him all over North America in the attempt to get “under his skin.”

But the weekend in South Florida was not at controversial. An elated Halperin tweeted a picture with himself, Peer and Glickstein and wrote, “Honored to have played this weekend with top two Israeli players ever, Shahar Peer and Shlomo Glickstein. Jewish Tennis Project #saynotobds.”

Halperin states that “Glickstein is to Israeli and Jewish athletes what Jackie Robinson was to the African-American community!” He was impressed that both sports stars played three hours a day “and didn’t miss a ball.” Halpern describes Peer as “the best volleyer in the game, even at five months pregnant.”

He says the “weekend was monumental and historic,” as it not only brought the top two Israeli tennis legends on the same court, but more importantly, put smiles on the kids’ faces.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Telegraphic Agency

(JTA) — Can Yishai Oliel become Israel’s version of tennis champion Novak Djokovic?

London businessman David Coffer is hoping the Ramle teenager can someday join such heady company — and he’s backing up his dream with the funding to groom the hard-hitting lefty for stardom.

Oliel is the most promising member of the David Squad, a small group of young Israeli tennis players that Coffer finances and manages along with his wife, Ruth, and three children. It picks the nation’s most talented up-and-comers — the five members now range in age from 12 to 16 — who Coffer hopes will soon become household names.

The squad is committed to “developing Israeli tennis players of the highest international standards,” according to its website. Since its launch in 2005, Coffer, the chairman of a real estate advisory firm and owner of the popular Tuttons and Dirty Martini restaurant and bars in London, estimates he has financed 100 children and teenagers.

Coffer, 67, is quick to note that the name “is not a reference to me but to King David, the greatest hero of Israel’s history!”

Djokovic, the Serbian ranked No. 1 in the world, personifies Coffer’s hopes for Israeli tennis: Win lots of Grand Slam titles and woo fans for your country. Coffer dreams of the day when one of his precocious players succeeds on an international level.

“Imagine 8 million Israeli citizens glued to their TV sets and not moving until the final game of Wimbledon is over,” he says. “It would mean so much to have a champion — we will cry with joy.”

Israeli players such as Dudi Sela, Andy Ram, Shahar Peer and Julia Glushko have enjoyed some success on the international level — Ram and Yoni Erlich teamed to win the Australian Open doubles title several years ago — but have never approached the top of the world rankings in singles. Israel was shut out in its latest Davis Cup match this year.

Oliel provides some optimism. The long-haired 15-year-old has made his mark already by twice winning the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl tournament in Florida — only the ninth player in the competition’s 70-year history to accomplish the feat.

“Yishai has amazing grace and timing and hates to lose,” Coffer says.

He recalls when Oliel was 11 and playing a tournament in Andalusia in 110-degree weather. The boy was on the verge of being shut out in straight sets.

“We encouraged him to take a rest,” Coffer says, “but Yishai cried ‘I am staying’ and ended up winning one game in the third set.”

Such tenacity, Coffer hopes, will win a Grand Slam championship — the French Open, U.S. Open, Wimbledon or Australian Open.

Along with developing champions on the court, the David Squad also aims to create a good name for Israel, says its managing director and head coach, Andy Zingman, a former Argentine tennis player, “all without political involvement.”

“This can be an important technique to change perceptions,” Zingman says.

David Coffer, in black hat, at ceremony in Raanana honoring him and son Adam, third from left, for 10 years of service to Israeli tennis, April 2015. (Courtesy of the David Squad)

Coffer’s son Adam points out that countries today curry favor through sports, as they have for many years. He points to Djokovic.

“If you stopped someone in the streets 10 years ago, most people would say that it was a country of wars and murder,” the younger Coffer says. “Today, thanks to Novak, half the people will say that the Serbs are nice, athletic, smiling people.”

David Coffer says Oliel, the son of Moroccan Jews, has similar attributes.

“People may warm to Yishai — to his smile, to his talent,” he said. “We could win friends. So we are here to find talent and nurture it.

The squad mostly trains in Raanana with such top coaches as Tzipora Oblizer, formerly one of the world’s top 75 players, Dedi Jacob and Eyal Omid. Jan Pochter, who has tutored Israeli national teams and is a veteran of international tennis, serves as Oliel’s primary coach.

Oliel is joined on the squad by May Kimhi and Keren Rozen, both 16; Roi Ginat, 14; and Yair Sarouk, 12. They make occasional training trips to such destinations as South Florida and Spain to train with extended members of the David Squad family, including former pros Aaron Krickstein and Manuel Santana.

“My father could afford to put them up in a hotel,” Adam Coffer says, “but we all stay together in our home,” referring to Spain and Florida. “They spend time together, feed off each other, pick each other up and share in the glory — you can’t put a price on that.” And the older athletes, like Oliel, mentor the younger ones.

The David Squad family, as the elder Coffer calls it, “is very warm and supportive.”

Being part of the squad requires commitment by the players and their parents, who must abide by a strict code of ethics: play to win, play fair, respect yourself — and, most important, Coffer says, “respect your parents,” who don’t join their children on trips around the world.

Coffer attributes his love of Israel and sports to his parents.

“My father was an ardent Zionist,” he says. “I remember him trying to raise money in those days for armaments. He always loved Israel and sports, and he gave his four sons the opportunity to play all sports — I played college level tennis.”

Coffer remembers visiting Israel for the first time at the age of 20. And he has brought his own family to Israel on many occasions. From the first visit, he says, “I loved Israel. It stood for all Jews — for spirit, defiance and progress. It made me feel good.”

Israel does have other tennis programs for young people. The Israel Tennis Center, for one, is a grassroots effort of 14 centers designed to grow the sport in Israel across religious and socioeconomic lines, often working with at-risk youth. The David Squad approach is more targeted.

“We identify the best possible players in Israel, with the greatest potential, at any age,” Adam Coffer says. “Our sole intention is to produce international level players capable of competing for Grand Slams.”

Danny Gelley, CEO of the the Israel Tennis Center, says, “Every center has a competitive tennis program for juniors, but we can’t afford to do individual coaching. Our whole budget is a fraction of what [Coffer] spends.”

Gelley adds that Coffer “is very independent and we have little relationship with him.”

Adam Coffer stresses his organization’s independence and echoes Galley’s assessment.

“We have very little involvement with the Israel Tennis Association or the Israel Tennis Centers,” he said. “We expect our kids, who are the best in Israel, to be entitled to the same contributions, if provided, by the ITA, as other players.

While Israel tennis stakeholders may differ in organizational mandate, approach and funding, all stand united in their desire for the day when Israel will produce world-class tennis talent.

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Original Article Published On The Jewish Telegraphic Agency

SUNRISE, Fla. (JTA) – It wasn’t Tel Aviv, but thousands of people chanting his name at a Davis Cup match following a grueling victory was a pretty good way for Israel’s Andy Ram to leave the game of tennis to which he had devoted more than half his life.

Ram, 34, and his longtime doubles partner, Yoni Erlich, had just outlasted the Argentine duo of Federico Delbonis and Horacio Zeballos in a five-set match on Saturday that lasted nearly three-and-a-half hours.

With Ram sprawled out on center court — on his back, in tears — the crowd waved Israeli flags and “Todah [Thank you] Andy Ram” signs in Hebrew and chanted “Andyoni” and “Tishaer [Stay],” suggesting that he put off the retirement he had announced recently.

His teammates, wearing “Todah Andy” shirts, surrounded Ram, hoisted him in the air and carried him off the court. They proceeded to dump an ice-filled bucket on his head.

He would stay on the court for 20 minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.

At a news conference afterward, Ram talked about his actions following the match, with Erlich and coach Eyal Ran at his side.

“I ran out of energy,” he said. “Then, as I was looking up at the sky and the birds, I got very emotional. And I cried like a baby.

“I thought of my father who couldn’t be here. I thought of my mom who was here. I left home at 14 to play tennis. Most of our relationship was on the phone. It meant the world to me that she was here.”

The doubles victory had put underdog Israel ahead 2-1 in the team match, but Argentina took both singles matches the following day to advance in the international tournament.

Despite the thunderous reception — as well as the Hebrew music heard frequently during the changeovers — Ram and his Israeli teammates lamented that the match was not played in central Israel, as scheduled, rather than South Florida.

In July, the Argentine Tennis Association requested a change in venue from the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv due to security concerns surrounding the conflict in Gaza. The International Tennis Federation informed Israel in August that the match had to be moved. Israel appealed but lost; it would have to serve as host in a different location.

The Sunrise Tennis Club was selected from among several options. Much of the crowd there backed the Israelis, with a section of Argentines clad in light blue and white shirts rooting on their guys.

“We are playing here in the U.S.; it is a good feeling and yet it is not the best feeling,” Ram told JTA on Friday. “It was supposed to be in Israel. I wanted to play in front of my home crowd.”

His teammate, Dudi Sela, was a little more direct.

“The ITF made a mistake,” Sela told JTA. “We were looking forward to playing in front of 11,000 people cheering for Israel.”

Asi Touchmair, the chair of the Israel Tennis Association, noted in a statement that Israel has hosted the Davis Cup during times of war and military operations without having to move the matches.

Despite the distance and the logistics difficulties involved, Touchmair said, “we decided to play the Davis Cup in South Florida due to the warm and welcoming relationship that Israel receives from the United States, and where an atmosphere of a ‘home away from home’ will be experienced by our Israel Davis Cup team.”

Among those who made the trek to Sunrise was Andrea Eidman, an Argentine sports journalist who came from Buenos Aires.

“People asked me, who do you cheer for? And honestly, I didn’t care!” she said.

Eidman added, “For me, being present at that tennis court … with the Hebrew music going on and on, with the Israeli flags, the ‘Hatikvah,’ the shofar — it was a party from beginning to end!”

Ram, sitting in the stands on Friday with Erlich, 37, and cheering on his teammates during singles’ matches, told JTA he had no problem looking toward the future.

“I try to put it behind me, like in the past,” he said. “I am the kind of guy who is always thinking, ‘What’s next?’

“It was fun. It was a good time. Next is to focus on my kids [aged 5 and 7]. To see them growing, to be great athletes. To find myself, my way.”

Ram and Erlich – natives of Uruguay and Argentina, respectively — reached as high as No. 5 in the world doubles rankings. They advanced to 36 finals and won 20 of them, including the 2008 Australian Open. Ram also won the Wimbledon mixed doubles in 2006 and the French Open mixed doubles in 2007.

Ram is particularly proud of his Davis Cup record of 19-5 following the one final victory – achieved despite pulling muscle in his left leg late in the fifth set.

“I sent Jonathan on a suicide mission,” Ram joked. “He said, ‘Just get the serves in. I will do the rest.’ ”

Erlich’s particularly strong volleys powered the duo in the final set in 91-degree heat.

Ram spoke of his partnership with Ehrlich.

“When we go on court together, magic happens. We communicate. We know what the other one will do,” Ram said.

Erlich offered, “We had motivation, energy and a lot of belief.”

Eidman summed up what much of the crowd was likely feeling on seeing Ram’s finale.

“I felt like crying when Andy Ram said goodbye to tennis,” she said, noting that the Argentina team’s Jewish captain, Martin Jaite, was playing in his final match, too.

Eidman also said, “I would have loved to travel to eretz Israel instead of America. … It hurt my heart not to go to Israel because of the war.”

But, Ram said, “11,000 people screaming Andyoni is amazing!”

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