Sports

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 at The Jerusalem post

This year’s US Open attracted more than 30,000 fans each day of the two-week tournament. And any time a Jewish or Israeli fan saw “ISR” next to a player’s name, they raced to the court to watch players like Dudi Sela, Yshai Oliel and Shelly Krolitzky. The same is true when such Israeli players as Shahar Pe’er, Julia Glushko and Amir Weintraub are in action.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that hundreds of non-Jewish, non-Israeli fans also watch Israel tennis players in action each year at the US Open and at dozens of other tennis tournaments around the world.

Israeli tennis players are excellent emissaries for Israel and can do amazing things for Israeli hasbara (public relations).

The Israeli tennis establishment can take a lesson from the Jewish Agency Shlichim (the Hebrew word for emissaries) program. In some ways, they are already doing a great job sending tennis ambassadors around the world. There is more work to do and some pretty easy solutions.

The Jewish Agency does a great job screening and training post-army (and in some cases, pre-army) young men and women to serve Jewish communities, camps and schools. They bring the multi-faceted people, cultures and stories of Israel and Israelis to these various communities.

The Israel tennis establishment, consisting primarily of the Israel Tennis Association, Israel Tennis Centers and the David Squad is blessed with a talented group of well-liked and well-spoken professional and amateur players of all ages who travel the world.

While their primary job is to play tennis, they represent Israel in tournaments around the world.

The Israel Tennis Centers sends a delegation of young players several times a year to exhibitions in various communities across the United States.

The group tends to reflect the diversity of Israel and Israel Tennis Centers, including players who are Ethiopian, Israeli Arab, Bedouin, people with disabilities, and children from poor backgrounds.

These groups help people better understand the many faces and stories of Israel. It is important to keep these emissaries – professional and amateur – trained and ready to speak about Israel.

There is an untapped group of tennis players from around the world who our Israel tennis establishment, Ministry of Culture and Sport and Ministry of Tourism, should also nurture as tennis ambassadors.

The more foreign tennis players have a positive experience with Israelis and Israel, the more Israel stands to make progress on the PR front.

Last February, I spent four days in Eilat covering the Fed Cup Group I Europe/Africa Zone event which included teams from 14 countries.

In Eilat, players from all countries as well as coaches, umpires and members of the media stayed in the same hotel and ate all their meals together. I interviewed many top 100 players, coaches and ITF (International Tennis Federation) staff.

I wanted to find out about their experience in Israel and with Israelis. All loved Israel but wished their busy travel and playing schedules would allow more opportunities to explore the beautiful, historically significant country of Israel.

Shlomo Glickstein, the CEO of the Israel Tennis Association and former 22nd ranked player in the world, observed that “it is very important for Israel to host such competitions and we love to host large events. It attracts sponsors, media and role models for our young players.”

These players return to their countries as great spokespeople for Israel.

Israel has an unprecedented opportunity to use tennis to teach the world about all the Holy Land has to offer. Israeli players should be coached and trained in hasbara, and players who come to Israel for tournaments should be wined and dined.

If they can’t get to see Israel, they should at least return with gift baskets stuffed with “I Love Israel” shirts, IDF hats, and such Israeli products as Ahava, Bisli and Naot.

Tennis players know all about love from the tennis scoring system. Wouldn’t it be nice if players also love Israel and spread that love around the world?

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Original Article Published on The Jerusalem Post

Israel got Fed Cup Europe/Africa Zone Group I action in Eilat off to a losing start on Wednesday, falling 2-1 to Turkey.

Shahar Pe’er and Julia Glushko lost their singles matches to open the day before teaming up to win the doubles encounter.

Israel will be back in action on Thursday when it faces Estonia before coming up against Croatia in its final Pool C tie on Friday.

The group winner will play-off against the winner of Pool C for a place in the World Group II playoffs in Eilat on Saturday, while the bottom-placed nation will play-off to determine relegation to Europe/ Africa Zone Group II in 2017.

The stars seemed aligned and the script already written by the time Pe’er, ranked 189th in the world, took Center Court on a sunny, warm, slightly breezy Wednesday for her evening session match against Turkey’s Ipek Soylu.

Despite Soylu’s slightly better ranking of 161, Pe’er is nine years older, has Fed Cup experience, and reached a career high of 11th in the world.

Pe’er also had the crowd on her side, with school children from Eilat filling the stands and cheering, “Let’s go Shahar, let’s go.”

Soylu got off to a quick 3-0 lead until Pe’er hit her groove, regained composure and won the first set in 50 minutes, 7-5. However, Soylu went on to win the second set 6-3 and the decisive set 6-2 to claim the match.

Israel’s No. 1 Glushko (No. 126) took the court under the lights versus Caglia Buyukackcay (142). Shouts of “El, el Yisrael” and “Let’s go Julia, let’s go!” helped Glushko get off to a 3-2 lead, but she could not sustain the rhythm in falling 7-5, 6-3.

The evening ended with the Pool C doubles match between Turkey and Israel, with Pe’er and Glushko partnering to take on Buyukakcay and Basak Eraydin.

After trading back-and-forth 7-5 sets, Israel clinched the win with 6-4 in the decisive set.

The Arkia Airlines gate and flight attendants at Ben Gurion Airport hardly realized there was a major international tennis tournament taking place in Eilat this week.

Yet, professional women tennis players from 14 countries, as well as coaches, umpires, members of the media and International Tennis Federation staff members have all congregated at the Municipal Tennis Center in Eilat, home of the Fed Cup 2016 Europe/ Africa Zone Group I tournament.

Tzipi Obziler, the Israeli captain, is a former Fed Cup player, representing Israel from 1994 to 2009. Israel’s team is coached by Sandra Wasserman, a former member of the Belgium Fed Cup team who reached a high of 48 in the WTA rankings as a player.

Obziler acknowledged that “it’s been a while, but to be a part of the Fed Cup team for the 17th year and first time as a captain means a lot to me. To hear again the national anthem, to wear again the Israeli flag on the back are very emotional things for me and I can only think about doing the best we can on and off court at any time.”

The tournament features two daily sessions through Saturday.

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