By: FELICE FRIEDSON AND DEBBIE MOHNBLATT for TheMediaLine
Like the Olympics, Israel’s signature sporting event, the Maccabiah Games, is held every four years, utilizing scores of venues upon which some 10,000 athletes compete over the course of two weeks.
Unlike the Olympics, though, the Maccabiah includes a Seniors division, enabling seasoned competitors to extend by decades their personal quests for athletic excellence.
The personal bonds with Israel that many Jews feel, combined with the thrill of competition, make for a heady mix of emotions that explain why a successful businessman might reward himself with a midsummer trip to the Middle East to take part in the Games, marching into Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium to the cheers of tens of thousands of well-wishers.
Tennis players, philanthropists, and sports aficionados – we spoke with these gentlemen.
Anton Rabie is the co-founder and director of the iconic Spin Master toys. Leonard Asper is a businessman and lawyer with an impressive history in media and communications. And Kevin Green is a Canadian businessman who serves as the international chair for Israel Tennis & Education Centers.
Kevin Green is the international chair for the Israel Tennis & Education Centers, and it’s his sixth time representing Canada in the Maccabiah Games.
TML: Welcome to The Media Line.
Green: Thank you for having me.
TML: It’s a pleasure. I know that it’s the sixth time you’re representing Canada in the Maccabiah Games. The first was back in 1985. What brings you here, your love of tennis or your love of Israel?
Green: It’s love of Israel, all the way.
Green: It’s hard to say. It’s just love of Israel.
TML: How many times have you been in Israel?
Green: Probably 30, 40 times for sure, over the years, 50.
Kevin Green helps train children from the Arab Israeli city of Tayibe, in Ramat Hasharon, Israel. (Courtesy)
TML: That’s a lot of times over many years.
Green: Many years. Yes, it’s the love of Israel. The love of marching [at the Maccabiah’s opening ceremony], seeing the Diaspora. It’s seeing the kids, seeing the excitement, seeing the energy. The other side of it, I’m quite active with the Israel Tennis & Education Centers. We have centers right across Israel, 18 centers, so it’s a lot of work going back and forth [from Toronto]. But it’s a true joy to be able to do that work, a true joy.
TML: This was your sixth time, in terms of being in the Maccabiah Games. That’s a big deal, and particularly now you’re over 60. Do you see a difference in playing a little bit older?
Green: Well, I can tell you that people are staying in better shape. I wish they weren’t, but it’s extremely competitive. The competition’s fantastic from all over the world. There great talent in the Diaspora.
TML: Tell me a little bit about that? Explain a little more about the Israel Centers.
Green: These are Tennis Centers. The Israel Tennis Centers go across Israel, and they’re designed to help children at risk, in need. It’s all about inclusion and bringing people together. Just recently the Arab cities have asked us to help them with their issues of violence and drugs and not going to school, and we’re helping brothers and sisters create a better Israel. That’s how we feel. We think that one child at a time, working together and working hard to bring everybody together. We want to create leaders. It’s a joy. The children that we see – oh my goodness – they’re the best. It keeps you coming back. They’re just so special. They have such excitement about what’s coming next. And hopefully we create opportunity and excitement and passion, motivation, integrity, giving back and all those things characteristics in these children. It’s big. It’s really an honor to be part of this.
TML: Is sports sort of a common denominator?
Green: Sports is really the excitement of getting together. There’s a lot of endorphins and dopamines happening when you start bouncing around. They’re children, all ages. Kids, whoever they are, whatever part of life they come from in Israel, they’re friends in 30 minutes. The main attraction for children is the friendships, and sports is a great way to build friendships. They laugh, they scream, they jump around, they make fun of each other and they’re truly friends for life. And what’s very special is that all the parents become friends. We feel really great about that.
TML: How many people are involved in the sports centers, and how many sports centers are there in Israel?
Green: There’s 18 centers. We see about 7,000 children. There’s probably about 250 to 300 people that work with our organization. That’s it.
TML: In 2013, you actually marched alongside your son, who was competing in the Juniors. What was that like?
Green: It’s very emotional. It’s very emotional and very special. It’s magnificent, to go to march with your son, to see the world, the Diaspora, marching into that stadium. It’s incredible.
TML: Do you feel that the Games have lived up to your expectations? You’ve been quoted as saying it’s more about comradery than competition.
Green: Oh, yes. First of all, the people you play against, some of the others are great athletes and there’s great competition. And you meet the teams. You meet the soccer players, you meet the baseball players, you’re meeting the hockey team, you’re meeting the hockey players. You’re meeting everybody. You’re meeting their families, you’re meeting from – the languages that go on, it’s incredible. It’s really special. It’s so fascinating. You’re talking to people and finding out what’s going on in their countries, what’s happening with Jewry, with them. From India, all over Europe, all over South America, North America. It’s fantastic. It’s just a great way to make friends for life. It’s very special. For myself, I love Maccabi because they bring so many people to Israel. That’s the greatest thing we all can do is bring many people to see how special this country is, what a magnificent place to visit. And when people come to Israel, they’re hooked, they’re hooked on Israel. It’s very special.
TML: What is the size of the over-50 group in terms of playing tennis, because that’s your area?
Green: I’m over 60. I believe six per country in each of the competitions. It depends on the number of countries that enter that competition, but in tennis, each country is allowed six competitors in each category. So that would be over-50, over-55, over-60. I’m not sure that helps, I can get you the total number but we [Canada] as a country sent somewhere around 600 people in all. And I think the US is 1,200. Plus their families. It’s fantastic that these people are visiting Israel, the buzz, the energy. The opening ceremonies are just magnificent.
TML: You’re one of the largest real estate companies [Greenwin] in Canada. How did your family get started in the business?
Green: Oh my goodness. Well, my zayde [grandfather] got here around 1918, 1920. He was sort of a handyman. He worked with his sons. In business they met − my grandfather had a best friend who unfortunately passed away, and another group bought out their interests. They sort of came into the ’60s and ’70s, when Toronto really needed accommodation, needed apartments, needed housing. And they got into high-rises. That was it. That’s sort of an abbreviated version, but that’s pretty much it.
TML: What makes you most proud of Israel?
Green: Well, let’s say that, before there was Israel, we as Jewish people never had a vote in the world. That we’re a country. There are a hundred reasons to love Israel. Israel has made such a contribution. Israelis are so compassionate. They’re always first in to help at tragedies around the world, fires, just problems that countries have, they’re always first in, they’re always helping, they’re always helping and leading the world in medicine, agriculture and technologies. It goes on and on here, you’re just very proud.
TML: Where is there room for improvement?
Green: In Israel?
Green: I’m very biased. … Israel’s got its challenges, it’s got its challenges. Unfortunately, there’s antisemitism in the world. There are many agendas that don’t work around us. We’ve got so many challenges here in Israel. Where can we be better? We’re all searching for peace, right? I don’t think that’s being better, but we’re all searching for peace, and that would be a goal.
TML: Kevin Green, thank you. Thank you for your time and for spearheading the efforts that you do with tennis centers around Israel and in terms of aiding and helping young children.
Green: That’s very kind of you to say. It’s an honor, it’s a joy to be able to contribute. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me.
TML: You’re welcome.