Wycliffe Event Shows How Tennis Can Transcend Differences

ITEC’s Yonatan Barak hits a volley at Wycliffe. Photo by Alan Fabricant

One of the most successful youth development programs in the world — the Israel Tennis & Education Center (ITEC) — owes some of its success to the annual financial support it receives from the members of the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club.

The ITEC program — which has more than 20 centers scattered across Israel — provides an outlet for Israeli children who need a safe refuge to spend time after school, during school breaks and on weekends.

In addition to providing a safe, secure and comforting place for children to spend time during their free time, the ITEC experience is unique because the adult mentors teach life skills to the children as it relates to respect, integrity, hard work, compassion, friendship and communication. The children are also given instruction on how to play and enjoy the game of tennis.

One amazing aspect of ITEC is that the children who attend these centers come from diverse backgrounds. The ITEC children are Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Bedouins, Druze, and refugees from many countries around the world, such as Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia.

To give an update on the progress and profound impact of the ITEC program — and to generate more financial support — an ITEC delegation, with tennis racquets in hand, visited Wycliffe on Thursday, March 9. It was the sixth visit to Wycliffe in recent years by an ITEC crew.

Those tennis-playing ambassadors were Yonatan Barak, Celine Absawi, Mika Dagan-Fruchtman and Noam Gershony. They were led by Yoni Yair, ITEC’s U.S.-based vice president of development. Yair is a product of the ITEC experience. He attended an ITEC chapter as a child growing up in Israel during the mid-1970s.

“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,” Yair said. “We serve 20,000 kids annually. We serve children from all walks of life in Israel.”

According to Yair, the opportunity to play tennis is a great incentive to join ITEC.

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

Nowadays, Yair spearheads fundraising efforts in the U.S. Those funds are used to support the work of ITEC.

Those four racquet-swinging ITEC delegates walked onto Wycliffe’s center court, where they were interviewed by Yair. Their answers to his questions confirmed the value of the ITEC program, which is making life-altering differences in the daily lives of Israeli children. Having the chance to be taught how to play and enjoy the game of tennis is a plus.

According to 13-year-old Barak, who has been playing tennis since he was six, spending time at ITEC has been a blessing in his life.

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

Barak’s two future goals in tennis are to represent Israel in the Davis Cup and to win the men’s singles title at the U.S. Open.

Absawi, 15, loves being friends with children who have different backgrounds.

“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 Hanukkah and Christmas.”

Dagan-Fruchtmann, 19, is the captain of the tennis-playing troupe that played at Wycliffe. She has taken her tennis-playing prowess to a new level. In 2019, she was the first female Israeli tennis player to play in the United Arab Emirates. She recalls receiving a warm and welcoming ovation from the UAE crowd.

Gershony, 40, has been confined to a wheelchair since a helicopter crash in July 2006 while serving in the Israeli army. He’s now a wheelchair tennis champion, as he won a gold medal at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.

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

After the interviews, the players 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 thoroughly entertained the crowd of nearly 400 people.