Faces of ITEC
Alumni & Students
“Finding the Israel Tennis & Education Centers was a true blessing that changed my life forever.”
So says 12-time WTA champion and former top 20 ranked player in the world Anna Smashnova who came to Israel with her family from Russia when she was 14 years old. She was introduced to the game back in the former Soviet Union city of Minsk at the age of 6, quickly rising to be #1 in her age group before arriving in Israel. That is when her career and her life really blossomed.
“The Israel Tennis & Education Center in Ramat Hasharon was like a second home to me. If I was not in school or at home, I could be found at the ITEC where I felt like I really belonged. It was a wonderful environment to grow and become stronger as a person.”
After turning pro in 1994, Anna was named Tennis Magazine/Rolex Watch Female Rookie of the Year. “When I became a professional I felt so lucky that my training and experiences at the ITEC gave me a chance for a real future.” She wasted little time in realizing how successful that future could be. At the 1994 French Open she upset world number 5 Jana Novotna, followed later that same year with an upset victory at the US Open over number 14 Lori McNeil. She proceeded to make it to the fourth round of the French Open in both 1995 and 1998… her best Grand Slam results.
Following her graduation from American International High School outside Tel Aviv in 1995 and the completion of her military service in the Israeli army in 1997, Anna continued to rack up impressive wins around the world. She won her first top-level WTA tour singles title in 1999 at Tashkent and her second title a year later at the prestigious Sanex Tourney in Belgium. Her real breakthrough year came in 2002 when Anna won four titles and beat 11 top 20 players. She won her ninth career title in 2004 in Vienna when she beat the highly touted Alicia Molik in three sets. In October that same year she was victorious over world number 14 Ai Sugiyama in Germany.
In March 2007 Anna publicly announced on Israeli radio that she would be retiring from professional tennis after Wimbledon. In addition to her extraordinary professional record, Anna holds the mark for the most ties played in Fed Cup competition – 61!
Since retirement, Anna has not forgotten her roots in Israel and the Israel Tennis & Education Centers. She returned to coach at the ITEC – Ramat Hasharon as her way of giving back to the ITEC and the children who aspire to achieve the same level of success she enjoyed. “Coming back to the ITEC made me feel like I was truly coming home again. Coaching here has been my way of helping the youngsters who come through the doors of the center just like I was so fortunate to receive when I was their age. The ITEC taught me many things, including the fact that tennis, as an individual sport, makes you a stronger person. This has helped me to be who I am today, and I want to make sure that these kinds of values are instilled in the next generation of players.”
“Making our way from Ethiopia to Israel was a dream for me and my family. Finding the Israel Tennis & Education Centers helped turn that dream into a reality.”
So recalls 32 year old Dvorah Marsha, who at the age of seven, walked hundreds of miles with her grandparents, brothers and cousins from her Ethiopian village of Madradgj to the country’s capital of Addis Ababa. Other members of her family arrived from Sudan, and together they overcame extraordinary risks and dangers to immigrate to Israel as part of “Operation Solomon” in 1991. It was there that she was reunited with her father who came to Israel six years earlier as part of “Operation Moses.”
At the age of 11, Dvorah began playing at the Israel Tennis & Education Center in Ashkelon with the youth club Beit Tzipora. That’s when she discovered her love for the game and her desire to learn valuable life skills that the ITEC taught the young people at the center. “As a child, I participated in nearly every sport there was,” Dvorah recalled. “I was very athletic which enabled me to win the Ashkelon Championships in long distance running. But it was tennis and the ITEC that really captured my attention. I quickly realized how much I loved the sport and all the great people at the center who encouraged me to reach for the stars. They taught me to never give up on my dreams. The center became like my second home.”
After her military service as a sports instructor in the Israeli Air Force, Dvorah became a coach at the center and saw just how much she loved teaching others. She also began studying for her degree in Physical Education and later continued her academic pursuits toward a Master’s Degree in Child Development at Bar-Ilan University. Throughout this period, Dvorah credits the ITEC for her success in tennis and in life.
“Tennis and the ITEC gave me great confidence and discipline. It taught me the importance of communications, relationships and working with all kinds of different people.”
More recently Dvorah applied what she learned to be a successful fundraising ambassador for the ITEC in the US, a position she enjoyed for almost a year before heading back to Israel to resume her work and giving back to the children at the center in Ramat Hasharon. She is currently in charge of supervising the tennis instructor courses at the ITEC – Ramat Hasharon and other centers around the country. All this could not have happened without the positive influence of the ITEC.
“The Israel Tennis & Education Centers gave me a framework of commitment and tools for life, such as coping with stress while developing important skills in thinking and concentration. That focus is something I use every day to perform to the best of my abilities. I am extremely grateful for what the ITEC has given me.”
The Israel Tennis & Education Centers’ social impact programs have truly made a huge impact on the lives of hundreds of developmentally and physically challenged children. It has dramatically changed the life of 24 year old Elad, who was born with Down syndrome and has been practicing at the ITEC – Beer Sheva for the last six years.
“Before he started playing tennis, Elad was very shy and closed off,” said his father Yossi. “He studied in a special needs school, came home and would always play on the computer or watch television by himself. Since he joined the ITEC, my son has become much more sociable. He has become much more independent and even started taking the bus by himself. Every morning, he travels to the Army base by himself. From there he takes two busses to the hostel in which he lives and from home he takes another bus to the Tennis Center.”
Elad’s disability at one point disqualified him from serving in the military. Yet after completing two years of national service in a primary school in Beer Sheva, Elad volunteered in the Israeli Army, serving in an IDF equipment base for five full weekdays over a two year period. Elad was eventually able to enlist in the Army as a volunteer soldier, fulfilling a lifelong dream of being able to wear a uniform like his four siblings and his parents did before him.
In fact, in a ceremony commemorating Israel’s 65th anniversary, the Israel Defense Forces honored Elad with its Award of Excellence, the highest tribute an Israeli soldier could receive. Following the ceremony, it was announced that Elad’s parents had dedicated his award to the Israel Tennis & Education Centers in recognition of the tremendous impact that the ITEC has had on his life and thousands of other young people since the ITEC opened its first facility back in 1976.
“The ITEC has changed Elad’s life in every way imaginable. Those who do not know him might not understand, but as his father let me tell you what a difference it has made. The Israel Tennis & Education Centers has truly changed his life for the better, allowing him to achieve goals he never thought he could.”
Columbia University graduate student Fahoum Fahoum understands perhaps better than most the extraordinary impact of the Israel Tennis & Education Centers on the youth of Israel. That is because he not only learned the sport of tennis at the ITEC – Haifa, he learned from his mother how tennis can become the platform to connect Jewish youth together.
“My mother started the ITEC Coexistence Program at the Selma and Irving Ettenberg Israel Tennis & Education Center in Haifa when I was just a child,” Fahoum recalls. “ It started as a single group of 20 kids and is now one of the most important social impact programs the ITEC has at all of its 14 centers throughout Israel.”
Fahoum started playing tennis at the age of 7 following his sister Nadine who was also there. He quickly joined the Junior National team and, between the ages of 10 and 12, competed internationally around the globe. Later he came to the US on a tennis scholarship to Old Dominion University, transferring in his junior year to Quinipiac University in Conneticut. After graduation, he enrolled at Columbia studying sport as a transformative vehicle for athletes in different communities.
“The ITEC’s Coexistence Program addresses some of the most important issues surrounding coexistence building. The first of these is the realization that Jewish and Arab youth do not always have the opportunity to integrate in public places. Secondly, in terms of communications, there remains a gap between Arab and Jewish youth. Hebrew is taught at an earlier age in Israel than Arab. Tennis can help bridge that gap. Thirdly, tennis transforms interdependency, encouraging people to work together and trust one another. And finally, tennis can provide a ‘level playing field’ when it comes to identity so that people come to understand there are issues to overcome that are larger than the individual alone.”
After Fahoum earns his Masters of Science degree he hopes to continue in some capacity relating to his work in the area of Coexistence. Currently, he is Columbia’s Assistant Director of Gifts. He knows that whatever life holds, the ITEC was there to shape his personality and help him become the success he is today.
“The ITEC coaches were just as important to me in terms of education as any teacher I had in school. They were there when my personality was being formed, and through them I learned the values of respect, friendship and leadership. The ITEC was like my second family, and everyone there was extremely committed to my pursuit of excellence.”
For sports enthusiast Lee Kuzi the Israel Tennis & Education Centers combined the best of both worlds… athletics and social development. From the age of 4 she has been into sports of all kinds, from swimming and gymnastics to cycling and, of course, tennis. But it was the other aspects of her time at the Nussdorf – Mark Families Israel Tennis & Education Center in Jaffa that really molded her into what she is today.
“I grew up in Holon & later in Tel Aviv – Jaffa, but the closest ITEC facility was in Jaffa, so my parents started taking me there when I was only 6 years old. I ended up playing there through high school.”
Although Lee was not part of the ITEC’s At-Risk Program, she vividly recalls playing alongside children from all backgrounds and circumstances. And this exposure taught her all about the importance of meeting and respecting people from all walks of life.
“I remember the coaches teaching us important life lessons like balance, knowing that life has limits, discipline and getting along like one big happy family. The point was that the moment I walked into the center we were all the same regardless of where we came from. We were all taught to believe in ourselves.”
That lesson has been a huge part of Lee’s success story to this day. Lee continued to play tennis at the ITEC – Jaffa through high school. After completing her military training with the Israel IDF, she ventured to the United States to study, earning a degree from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Lee launched her own design firm called KUZI DESIGN, which she describes as a “modern, innovative and groundbreaking interior design studio.” She act as a consultant to Real Estate firms as a Senior Design and Project Manager, followed by a successful stint at NELSON Architecture as a Senior Designer, providing design services to some of the largest cooperates and real estate firms in the City and abroad.
“The ITEC has meant so much more than tennis to so many children over the years. I am fortunate to be included in that group. I would not be where I am today with the values and life lessons taught me there.”
ITEC Haifa Graduate
Living Together Program & High Performance Program
Nadine is a fierce advocate for coexistence in Israel and has made it her mission to connect people and foster greater understanding. When she first became affiliated with ITEC at the age of nine, she and her siblings were the only Arab children at her center. Since then, she has actively worked to build bridges and extend a hand of peace and friendship to all people in Israel. After coming to the US, Nadine graduated from Duke University with a political science degree and Markets & Management certificate.
Click HERE to learn more about Nadine.
“ITEC saved my child.”
Those are pretty powerful words. So, how did ITEC help?
Meet the Tzuberi family. They live in Akko. Shiran is a mother of two boys and she’s their primary care provider. She just started a new job after being unemployed for two-and-a-half years.
Shiran realized her nearly 11-year-old Nehoray was falling way behind in school. He got very low grades, had trouble concentrating and neglected his homework. Nehoray wasn’t on the right path. She needed support and help.
A neighbor told Shiran about the Embrace program at ITEC Akko; this program takes a holistic approach for youth at risk. Embrace teaches discipline, helps them with social skills and boosts self-esteem; it was a perfect fit for Nehoray. As a bonus, Nehoray is a talented tennis player!
After joining the program, Nehoray’s behavior and attitude changed dramatically, thanks, in large part, to his coach, Niv Maman. Niv has invested time and energy into helping Nehoray, far beyond tennis lessons. He makes sure that Nehoray does his homework, calls to make sure Nehoray wakes up for school on time, provides support and advice. Through their unique bond, Nehoray says he feels like Niv is a second father.
Now, Nehoray’s family says he’s thriving. His schoolwork and tennis are both equal priorities. Nehoray truly embodies ITEC’s principles of excellence, equality, education and leadership. The Embrace program has helped Nehoray to reach his potential.
Neharoy drew a picture of a hot air balloon and wrote the words “The Sky is the Limit” beneath it; that now hangs on his wall as a reminder that he can do anything. Niv, his family and the entire ITEC community are supporting him every step of the way.
ITEC Beer Sheva Graduate
Immigrant Integration: Ethiopian Empowerment Program
Orel, the child of Ethiopian immigrants, joined the ITEC sponsored “Future Generation” tennis program for Ethiopian children at the age of six. Through ITEC, he learned essential life skills, including English language fluency. Orel had the opportunity to study in a training program for assistant coaches at the ITEC and as a result he had the chance to give back by working as an assistant coach and helped educate the next generation of children at the ITEC Beer Sheva. In 2021, Orel joined the IDF. He is currently serving in an elite commando unit and he belongs to the Paratroopers Brigade.
“Everything I have that’s positive in my life, I attribute one way or another to the Israel Tennis & Education Centers.”
That one sentiment capsulizes the true feelings that ITEC Manager Rakefet Binyamini has for the ITEC. In 1976, when she was 12 years old, Rakefet joined the ITEC – Ramat Hasharon, which had just opened. She very quickly fell in love with the game and started playing every day, moving into the ITEC’s High Performance Program as a very successful junior player.
In 1981 she won the Israeli Junior Championships in the U-16 and U-18 categories. That same year, she also won the Israeli National Championships in singles and doubles. After graduating high school Rakefet received a full scholarship to attend the U.S International University in San Diego, where she stayed for four years and graduated Cum Laude with a degree in Physical Education.
Upon returning to Israel, she coached for four years at the ITEC – Ramat Hasharon. Rakefet then left the ITEC to manage a private tennis club for 11 years, before coming back in 2006 to manage the Nussdorf – Mark Families Israel Tennis & Education Center in Jaffa. During this time, she also found time to earn a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.
As a former Israeli Tennis Champion who has coached thousands of children throughout her career, Rakefet is the ultimate role model for girls at risk. “When I see one of the girls at the center”, Rakefet reflects,” I know she could just as easily be out on the street. More importantly, I know that that the ITEC and the game of tennis may prevent her from roaming the streets in the future”.
“Nine years ago, my life came full circle when I became Manager at the ITEC – Jaffa. It was a real opportunity to give back to the community what it had given to me for so many years as a child and as an adult. Tennis did not only give me fame, glory and success. What tennis has really given me and hundreds of other kids like me, are values and life skills such as responsibility, cooperation, self-esteem, self-confidence, an ability to solve problems and make decisions, motivation, hard work, living up to your dreams, acceptance and tolerance.
Today I feel blessed that I can instill all those values and give as many kids as possible the opportunity to play, to enjoy the game of tennis and to make a difference in their lives. And my goal for the future is to help even more children and to never stop trying new programs that will put a smile on every child that walks through our door.”
ITEC Tel Aviv Graduate
Despite losing her hearing at a young age, Rotem has gained the confidence and skills to become one of the top tennis players in Israel through the support of ITEC.
Despite losing her hearing at a young age, Rotem has gained the confidence and skills to become one of the top tennis players in Israel through the support of ITEC. She has become a mentor and role model for young women and men in Israel and beyond, as she leads by example to show how hearing impaired individuals can thrive and succeed – in sports and in life.
Sasha Edelstein Hanegby
Sasha was born in the Ukraine and moved with her parents to Israel when she was 8 years old. At the age of 9 a representative from the Selma and Irving Ettenberg Israel Tennis & Education Center in Haifa stopped by her school to talk about the center and recruit young people interested in becoming future Israeli tennis stars. Shortly thereafter she met ITEC founder Ian Froman and for the next 5 years Sasha lived, breathed and played tennis at the center while representing the ITEC at tournaments around the world.
“Having this kind of opportunity for me was a life changer,” Sasha recalled. “Being the only child of two hard working Russian immigrant parents, I would have never gotten the chance to experience the world and develop as a person if it had not been for the ITEC. It was a very welcoming environment which made me feel like I was part of a 2nd family.”
Following her two year military obligation, Sasha came to the US and enrolled on a full tennis scholarship at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where she excelled on the court and in the classroom. As a senior, she went undefeated in both singles and doubles, being named Captain and leading her team to the Eastern Collegiate Doubles Championships. Upon graduating from UMass, Sasha landed a coveted position at Citigroup in New York City where she quickly rose through the ranks of the prestigious financial institution. Today she is Director of Citigroup’s Global Equity Platform Sales Group, marketing new products to prospective clients around the world. She gives back to the Israel Tennis & Education Centers by actively supporting the organization as it embarks on its 40th anniversary.
“Being introduced to the ITEC at such an early age was a blessing for me,’ Sasha fondly recalls. “The life skills and especially the values I learned there have been a big reason for my success today. That is why, whenever I get a chance to go back to Israel to see my family, I stop by the center to give back to the children who are there now. I know that the help I received helped me immeasurably, and I am inspired to pass along those same lessons to the children who come to the center now.”
ITEC Beer Sheva Graduate
Living Together Program & High Performance Program
Shadi, a Bedouin Arab from the town of Rahat, takes great pride in the friendships he has made across cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. After joining the ITEC family at a young age, he participated in ITEC’s Living Together program and eventually earning a scholarship to enter ITEC’s High Performance programming. In the Fall, 2022, Shadi will be starting at Marian University in Indianapolis studying accounting on a tennis scholarship.
Being the Manager of the Israel Tennis & Education Center in Kiryat Shmona is a very satisfying and rewarding experience for Tal Amsalem, especially given the challenges he faced as a youngster in a very volatile region of Israel. Tal grew up in Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border, and he has vivid memories inside a bomb shelter or running to one when the sirens sounded and rockets started falling. “My parents were very protective, so I couldn’t do a lot of the normal things that kids would want to do. That’s why the ITEC became such an important part of my life.”
Tal was introduced to the ITEC and the game of tennis at the age of 7 when a coach from the ITEC – Kiryat Shmona came to his school to talk about the center and recruit youngsters interested in learning how to play. “It was a wonderful opportunity to come and play because it was free for us to go there, so my parents encouraged me to go. And remembering how important that was for me, I try to do the same thing today as Manager by helping neighborhood kids who can’t afford to come by providing them with scholarships.
“The ITEC has meant so much to me from my youngest years to now. As a child, it taught me to be independent and on my own. It also gave me important life values of competitiveness and perseverance. To me, it is way more than just a place to play tennis. The ITEC is like a second family, and I was always very proud of being a kid growing up at the ITEC.”