Around Wellington: Israeli Children Visit Wellington with Tennis Racquets In Hand

« All News
Posted on: 03/19/2024

Story by Mike May, Photos by Alan Fabricant

March 19, 2024

On Thursday, March 7, a group of young tennis racquet-toting ‘ambassadors’ from the Israel Tennis & Education Centers (ITEC) paid their annual March visit to the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club in Wellington.  Because of the current conflicts in the Middle East, specifically in Israel and Gaza, this visit took on a little extra meaning – for both the ‘ambassadors’ and the large gathering of Wycliffe residents who came to watch, listen, and learn about the power and importance of the ITEC experience for children now living in Israel.

Despite the nature of life currently in battle-ravaged Israel, ITEC’s mission continues and the role that ITEC serves for the children of Israel takes on greater importance.  The ITEC experience caters specifically to disadvantaged children and to children from broken homes in Israel who need a place to go after school or on weekends in order to avoid trouble on the streets.  Currently, there are 24 ITEC outlets in Israel that serve as a safe haven for Israeli children who come from many walks of life: Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, and refugees from many countries around the world such as Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Ukraine, U.S., and Russia.  Clearly, the ITEC program truly caters to a ‘melting pot’ of children from diverse backgrounds.  What’s worth noting is that the side-effects of this ‘melting pot’ experience for the Israeli children are positive, profound, and life-altering.

The services that ITEC provides for children back in Israel range from a quiet place to do their homework to a place to spend time safely with friends and peers to a place where they can enjoy a hot, cooked meal.  But, the focal point of the ITEC experience, which started in the mid-1970s, is learning how to coexist in life with people from different backgrounds while learning how to play tennis.

“Since 1976, we have impacted the lives of more than 500,000 children in Israel, which is one of the most conflicted regions in the world, especially now,” says Yoni Yair, ITEC’s U.S.-based vice president of development, who is also a by-product of the ITEC experience back in the late 1970s.  “We serve 20,000 kids annually.  We serve children from all walks of life in Israel.”

At ITEC, tennis is a means to an end.

“We like to promote racquets over rockets,” adds Yair.

Under the leadership of Yair, the group of young representatives who visited Wycliffe in early March told their personal testimonies and life stories.

“Because of ITEC, I have lots of friends and I have learned how to play and enjoy the game of tennis,” says Aline Masri, 10, an Israeli-Muslim from Jaffa.

“At ITEC, I am friends with children who are Jewish and Muslim Arabs,” says Areina Datlenko, 11, a Christian who emigrated with her family to Israel from Ukraine in 2023.  “I also learned how to hit a two-handed backhand.  I love my two-handed backhand.”

“Because of ITEC, I have learned to always work hard, be positive, give back to others, and to enjoy my great relationships with children of different backgrounds whether they are Jews, Muslims, or Christians,” says Inbar Pony, 18, who lives near Tel Aviv and is currently an Israeli soldier.  “I have been attending ITEC for ten years.”

After their personal testimonies, they all retreated to Wycliffe’s center court to showcase their vast and eye-opening tennis talents.

Whether it was hitting cross-court forehands, striking two-fisted backhands, clipping crisp volleys, or delivering an ace from the service line, these representatives of ITEC demonstrated their ability to hit every shot in tennis with precision, power, and flair.  The crowd was impressed.

For the handful of ITEC ‘ambassadors’ – male and female — who appeared at Wycliffe, each one of them agreed that without the ITEC experience, their lives would not be where they are today – enriched by lifelong friendships with other children of different backgrounds and better off because they have learned how to play the great game of tennis.

For more information about ITEC, access