Building Relationships Through Sports

 
By Adam Dembling, Tikkun Olam Tel Aviv Jaffa
 
I recently returned from five months of volunteer and study in Israel on a program called Tikun Olam in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.  As a volunteer on Tikun Olam, I found myself immersed in places and experiences that allowed me to work actively for change. For example, at the Israel Tennis Center-Jaffa, I taught tennis to a mixed group of Arabs and Jewish kids, who joined together as teammates to improve their play. I watched my group learn to work together both on the court and on the sidelines. Many of them did not grasp the significance of the group's diversity, but that was also the beauty of it.  When they entered the courts, the boundaries created by race and religion – so apparent in a tense city like Jaffa – disappeared.
 
It became evident to me that through teamwork, cultural barriers could be overcome. The thousands of balls we hit, drills we ran, and matches we played paid off.  At a national coexistence doubles tennis tournament in Haifa, the players I coached competed together against other teams from Beer Sheva, Haifa, and Tiberias.  The constant communication during hard-fought matches and the camaraderie that poured from their teammates watching from the stands were proof of the productive relationships that had been born.  I was proud of the team regardless of the outcome.
 
As the end of the tournament neared, the children, parents and coaches waited anxiously for the award ceremony. The Jaffa team was announced the winner and my kids were ecstatic. On the podium they accepted their trophies and medals and together chanted, "Yaffo! Yaffo!" While they hugged one another and posed for pictures, I could not help but feel honored to be a part of it all.  This victory was not a result of the work they accomplished as individuals, as Arabs and Jews, but a result of their collective efforts.
 
Experiences like these left me hopeful that the lessons and skills these children learned on the court would lead to future cooperation in their everyday lives. And this is important because, after all, these children represent the future of Israeli society.
 
Adam was a participant in Tikkun Olam’s 5-month program in the spring of 2010, during which time he volunteered coaching "coexistence doubles" tennis for Arab and Jewish youths together at the Israel Tennis Center in Jaffa.  This post originally appeared on the Tikun Olam Tel Aviv-Jaffa website and an article about Adam's volunteering at the Tennis Center appeared in the Boston Jewish Advocate in July of 2010, and is accessible to paid subscribers here.
 

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