The Israel Tennis Centers showcased some of the Jewish state’s up and coming young players Monday, Aug. 20, during an exhibition event at a Squirrel Hill residence.
Sara and James Guttman hosted the well-attended ITC fundraiser, which featured players from various religious and ethnic backgrounds performing fast-paced drills on the couple’s backyard tennis court.
The players — even the 9-year-olds — spoke of the difference the ITC has made in their lives.
Nadine Fahoum, an Arab Israeli, passionately described her experience. At age 9, she started playing tennis at the ITC’s Haifa center and fell in love with the game. She won her first national championship at age 12.
Fahoum also became the first Arab to represent Israel in the Youth Olympics and “had the honor” to attend Duke University — on full scholarship — while playing for the school’s women’s tennis team — the third-ranked team in the country.
“When I started to play at the tennis center in Haifa, my brother and I were the only Arab kids at the tennis center.” Their mother, she said, spoke to the manager, “and together they decided to bring more Arab children to the tennis center.” The ITC sent coaches to Arab schools and recruited students.
Co-existence tournaments developed so that Jews and Arabs would play together. “It was just us kids, having fun, running around,” Fahoum said. We didn’t really realize the impact it would have on our lives. In retrospect, I think it was huge.
“I felt very fortunate to have heard both sides my whole life and realized that we both want the same thing. We just want to live in peace, go to work, come back, enjoy each other.”
Now the ITC has a twin kindergarten program, putting Jewish and Arab kindergarteners together to play — and grow up — together.
Fahoum believes it is important to put the children together at a young age, when shaping behavior patterns, opinions and views begin.
“For me today, I don’t have to think about coexistence or practice coexistence — I just live coexistence,” she said. “That’s my life, and I love it.”
The Israel Tennis Centers Foundation is bringing the young players to several cities in the United States as part of its fundraising activities. In Pittsburgh, funds are being raised for a “dream bus” in Karmiel-Misgav, Pittsburgh’s sister communities, to enable 60 kids who cannot play at the ITC centers because they can’t get there.
Fahoum, who recently graduated from Duke, is now a development associate for the ITC Foundation in New York.
The ITC, which started 35 years ago, is now a 14-center network — from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Beer Sheva in the south, and everywhere in-between.
The ITC bills itself as “one of the most important social service agencies for children in Israel.” As such, in addition to the tennis coaching, it integrates immigrant children into the mainstream, attends to special needs children, runs Arab and Jewish co-existence programs and provides counseling as needed.
Kids who live in tough neighborhoods come to the center, affording them hope and a better future.
Want to help?
Visit israeltenniscenters.org for more information on the ITC or contact its foundation
at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-884-7451.
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at email@example.com.)