‘Through tennis we build bridges.’ Young Israeli tennis players visit Boca Raton

« All News
Posted on: 04/01/2024


PUBLISHED: March 28, 2024 

Four young tennis players and their coaching entourage representing the Israeli Education Tennis Centers enjoyed a three-week whirlwind tour in Florida with a series of exhibition matches and fundraising events. The Boca Raton Racquet Club was the host site for one of the events, followed by a reception, courtesy of sponsors Mindy and Alan Swift, Deanna and Bob Adler, and Harvey Rothenberg.

Despite the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the ITEC has stayed true to its core values and mission of creating a safe haven for children coming from diverse backgrounds. Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Bedouins, Druze and refugees from countries around the world are part of the successful program.

The stars of the ITEC were the young tennis players who have proven to be great ambassadors of the program as well as the sport. Ranging in age from 10 to 18, the players shared their testimonies to the crowd of supporters.

Arina Diatlenko, 11, a Christian, escaped the war in Ukraine in 2023 and came to Israel with her family, only to encounter another war in Israel after last year’s Oct. 7 terrorist attack. She was joined by teammates Aline Masri, 10, an Israeli Muslim from Jaffa, and Rom Malka, 14, who escaped the recent terrorist attack in a bunker with his family.

“This is my second time in the U.S. It’s very special to meet new friends and people,” Diatlenko said. “I appreciate all the love and support here.”

Inbar Pony is an 18-year-old who lives near Tel Aviv and has joined the Israeli Defense Force. The internationally ranked tennis player has been part of the ITEC for 10 years.

“This is my first time here in the U.S. and my dream is to come here for college,” Pony said. “I continue to compete in international tournaments. The IETC is very special, and it gives all the children opportunities to play tennis that they may never have because of the expense. We learn values for life, and I started coaching little children this past year, which is special for me to give back.”

The ITEC program was established in 1976, serving more than 20,000 children annually with a staff of more than 300 tennis coaches, social workers, fitness professionals and psychologists. No child regardless of background or religion is ever turned away.

With 24 centers across Israel, the ITEC is one of the largest social service agencies in the country with hundreds of graduates receiving tennis scholarships at U.S. colleges and universities.

Yoni Yair was one of the first children to join the ITEC back in 1976. Today, serving as the U.S. vice president of development, he remains committed to the program that had a profound impact on his life. Now, he has become the mentor to a new generation of children.

“I’m an ITEC graduate, and I was fortunate to be one of the first children to benefit from the program that started back in 1976,” Yair said. “It was a special year. Six visionaries got together to see how they could help and inspire children and bring them some quality of life and hope.”

The ITEC developed into a community center where the kids spend six to eight hours a day there while receiving hot meals. They learn about respect and embrace the opportunity to have fun and create friendships.

“Today, we have 24 locations in Israel, and we bring some of the children to the United States three times a year,” Yair said. “We call them our ambassadors and we do 13 events throughout Florida. Our message goes way beyond tennis as we are preparing the children for life, while giving them the necessary skills to be good human beings and good citizens. Through tennis we
build bridges.”

Boca Raton resident and tennis aficionado Bob Adler got started with the ITEC program more than 20 years ago and has witnessed remarkable growth.

“All these players participating today are very good tennis players and our goal is to get them college scholarships,” he said. “We have helped over 500 kids get scholarships the past 10 years to top Division 1 schools. Today, we have over 20,000 children of all nationalities playing the great game of tennis.”

Visit itecenters.org.