“I consider my life as that classic story of local boy making something very good with his life.”
So says Manager of the Selma & Irving Ettenberg Israel Tennis & Education Center in Haifa Lilo Zarfati, who grew up in a very poor neighborhood north of Haifa. “It was a tough place to be as a child, with crime and drugs everywhere. The ITEC was my opportunity to get away from all that.”
Lilo was introduced to the game by his brother who also started playing at the ITEC as a youngster, and who Lilo helped train. “I remember the coach there saw me helping my brother and asked if I wanted to take up the game. That was all I needed to hear. After only one month, tennis just came to me as something I could do and do well.”
After serving in the Army, Lilo returned home to become a coach at the center in Haifa, which he did for 8 years, followed by Head Coach for 3 years before his promotion to Manager of the center which he has been enjoying for the last decade. Through it all he has pointed to the learning at the center as key to his accomplishments in all aspects of his life.
“The ITEC taught me to be an independent thinker, to be comfortable expressing my opinions, to strive to be the best and to have the confidence in knowing that I can achieve anything I set my mind to do.” These values not only served him well growing up at the center, but later on as a Commander in the IDF. “The skills I picked up made me a better officer. It allowed me to succeed faster than I would have otherwise. Overall, the ITEC taught me to think positive, to wait for my chance in life and then to go for it.”
And go for it Lilo has! As Manager of the center, he has successfully cultivated many programs, including an Immigrant Assimilation initiative for the growing population of Ethiopian families who have settled in Haifa and surrounding communities. His goal is to give them the same life tools that he received and to make them feel comfortable with the ITEC as their second home.
“I want to help more kids to succeed in life just like I have. I want to help all children no matter what their background… Jews, Arabs, Christians, Bedouins, Druze. I want to be there for all of Israeli society. To me, no one is different. We are all the same. And the more I can get the children and their families to understand that, the better off we’ll all be.”