TENNIS:  The Diplomatic Pathway to Peace in Israel

Posted on: 03/31/2023

By Mike MayPhotos by Alan Fabricant

There are some youth-development programs in the world that have a local, statewide, or a regional impact.  And, there are some youth development programs in the world that have a national impact, but very few youth-development programs in the world truly have an international impact.  Well, that’s definitely the case for the Israel Tennis & Education Centers (ITEC), which cater to disadvantaged children and those from broken homes in Israel who need a place to go after school or on weekends in order to avoid trouble on the streets.  Fortunately, more than 20 ITEC outlets are serving as a safe haven for Israeli children – and have been since the mid-1970s. 

What’s unique about the ITEC program is that all the children involved are not Jewish.  In fact, the children who attend ITEC are 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.  The ITEC program attracts and caters to a true ‘melting pot’ of children from diverse backgrounds.

What’s noteworthy about the children who are affiliated with ITEC is that they quickly learn how to coexist with one another while being taught how to play tennis.

All Photos by Alan Fabricant

“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,” said Yoni Yair, ITEC’s U.S.-based vice president of development.  “We serve 20,000 kids annually.  We serve children from all walks of life in Israel.”

Yair is an ITEC disciple, as he attended an ITEC chapter as a child growing up in Israel during the 1970s.  As a professional, he’s based in Deerfield Beach, where he is busy generating financial support for ITEC so it can continue to provide a safe and nurturing place for future generations of all Israeli children.

On Thursday, March 9, Yair and a handful of ITEC tennis-playing ‘delegates’ visited the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club in Wellington to showcase the positive and profound impact that the ITEC experience is having on children back in Israel.  Those tennis-playing ‘delegates’ were Yonatan Barak, Celine Absawi, Mika Dagan Fruchtman, and Noam Gershony.

Those four racquet-swinging ITEC ‘delegates’ walked onto Wycliffe’s center court where they were interviewed by Yair.  Their responses to his questions confirmed that the ITEC experience is making a strong, positive, life-altering difference in their daily lives.  Having the chance to be taught how to play and enjoy the game of tennis is a bonus. 

According 13-year-old Barak, who has been playing tennis since he was six, spending time at ITEC Ramat Hasharon is like having a second home.

“I love being at the center,” said Barak.  “I have so many friends and the coaches are like my family.” 

Barak’s big goals in tennis is to eventually represent Israel in the Davis Cup and to win the U.S. Open men’s singles title.

Absawi, now 15 and based at ITEC Haifa, loves the variety of children at ITEC.

“We are such a diverse team with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian children playing together.  I have many friends at the center,” said Absawi, who is known as the Ambassador of Peace.  “We celebrate holidays together like Hannukah and Christmas.  And, I get to learn about different cultures.  I love to play tennis with my friends.”

Fruchtmann, now 19 and based at ITEC Ramat Hasharon, was introduced as the captain of the tennis-playing troupe.  She is a prime example of how the ITEC experience can generate opportunities to play international tennis.  In 2019, she was the first female Israeli tennis player to play tennis in the United Arab Emirates.  She remembers getting a warm and welcoming ovation from the crowd in the UAE.

Gershony, now 40, has been confined to a wheelchair since a helicopter crash in July 2006 while serving in the Israeli army during the Lebanon War.  He’s now an accomplished wheelchair tennis player.  In fact, in 2012, he won a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

“Tennis has changed my life, mentally and physically,” said Gershony.

After the interviews, the ITEC ‘delegates’ were joined on Wycliffe’s center court by Kam Kuchta, Wycliffe’s director of tennis.  What followed was a first-class tennis exhibition featuring forehands, backhands, volleys, and overheads which thrilled and entertained the large crowd in attendance, which included Jim Barnes, Wellington’s City Manager, and Bruce Wagner, Wellington’s Director of Public Works.

“Tennis is the vehicle to get kids enrolled at ITEC,” said Yair.  “At ITEC, we teach children the right values in life and the importance of respecting diversity.”

The appearances at Wycliffe by those tennis-playing ITEC ‘delegates’ confirms that ITEC is one of the few youth-development programs in the world that truly has a lasting and international impact.  And, it can be said that ITEC’s program may well be the best, too.

According to Yair, tennis is an integral part of the ITEC program, but it’s secondary in importance when compared to teaching children life skills such as discipline, hard work, respect, cooperation, and determination.

If interested in learning more about ITEC or supporting ITEC, please contact the ITEC Foundation office in Deerfield Beach at 954-480-6333 ext. 222.  For more information about ITEC, access