| By Brian Coleman
The Israel Tennis & Education Center had an Exhibition Tour this summer, which included a stop at the 2019 US Open on the first day of the tournament's main draw.

 

This summer, Israel Tennis Center changed its name to the “Israel Tennis & Education Centers Foundation (ITEC),” as the organization—which has been around for 43 years—has grown and evolved into one of the largest social service agencies for children in Israel.

Over the last half-century, ITEC has become one of the most important social service agencies in Israel, and has spread to have influence in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. What began with a vision of opening one tennis center to bring tennis to the masses, regardless of background, religion, ethnicity or physical ability, has vastly grown into an all-encompassing organization that uses sports and education to develop the next generation of citizens.

“We really wanted to align our name with our mission,” said Jacqueline Glodstein, ITEC’s executive vice president of global development. “We were already focusing on education and had been doing so for years, but with the name ‘Israel Tennis Centers,’ people really didn’t know what our mission was. We were thought of as a tennis club, very simply. Now we can talk about our organization and rebrand ourselves, and they get it immediately. We started as one tennis center and have now transformed into a social service agency, an inclusive and diverse program. There is nothing better than bringing children together to learn, play and grow, and it impacts a broader audience. Not just the 500,000 children we serve, but the families and communities around them, as well as the future of Israel.”

It was an exciting summer for ITEC in addition to the rebranding, as a few lucky students from the program embarked on a 10-day trip to the United States as a part of ITEC’s August 2019 Exhibition Tour.

“We are thrilled to provide our children the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and serve as youth ambassadors for Israel in communities abroad,” said Glodstein. “It is a phenomenal thing to witness, and these children learn so much by having this unique educational experience and getting to meet some of the wonderful people who support them.”

The tour began at an exhibition and fundraising event in East Hampton, and then it was on to Cleveland, Ohio and Brookline, Mass., before returning to New York for an event in West Hampton Beach and Southampton and then concluding the trip by taking in the first day of the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“This is my first time here,” said Eden, who currently serves as a coach at ITEC in Haifa after being a part of the organization growing up as a child. “We are so excited … we couldn’t sleep last night. It’s an amazing adventure for us. I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back, and it is a privilege for me to lead our delegation and share our unique story.”

Eden is one of the many success stories to come out of ITEC. He grew up playing in the Center in Haifa before joining one of the elite units of the Israel Defense Forces at the age of 18.

“Growing up in the tennis center helped me prepare for life. I learned a great deal of values and life skills that helped me when I joined one of the most elite units in the Israeli army,” Eden told New York Tennis Magazine at the US Open. “I learned how to deal with both success and failure, and to have a goal to be my best. I also learned the importance of giving back. The opportunity to serve the next generation of kids in Israel, in the location that I grew up in, is an amazing experience for me. I had an amazing experience in the Israeli Army, and now I can use all of the skills I have learned to be an educator for the next generation of kids in Israel.”

One of those youngsters is 15-year-old Nir, who has been playing tennis since he was just five-years-old and is a part of the ITEC in Beer Sheva, Israel. Nir was one of the kids who got the chance to travel to the U.S. this summer as part of the Exhibition Tour.

“It’s great to be at a Grand Slam. I’ve been to the Masters tournament in Madrid, but this is a lot better. This is the greatest tournament in the world,” Nir said. “The atmosphere is very special. It’s been so fun and overall a great experience for me.”

Nir was one of the four players who came over to the states for the tour. In total, ITEC serves 20,000 youth annually, and has become integral in the growth and development of much of the nation’s youth.

“For many of the kids, it goes way beyond tennis. It’s about coming to a safe place,” said Yoni Yair, vice president of development for ITEC’s Florida Office and ITEC Alumnus. “Many of the tennis and education centers are located - in underprivileged neighborhoods throughout Israel, and the vision was to help keep these children off the street.”

The ITEC is open to any and all kids in Israel, and because of that, has created a culture of diversity and inclusivity that benefits all

“We serve children at risk, immigrants, kids with special needs, etc. … and they are all co-existing together,” said Yair. “We have Jewish and Arab kids interacting with each other. Everyone in Israel is welcome to be a part of our family, regardless of their background, religion or socioeconomic status. Education is key for us in helping us provide them with a brighter future. We feel that sports are a great vehicle to get kids from different backgrounds together, and they can learn how to respect one another, listen to one another and become friends. I think their experience at the ITEC helps them become better citizens.”

After attending the 2019 US Open, the group from ITEC headed back to Israel to continue their training and education, both on the tennis court and in the classroom, where they will continue to benefit from what the organization offers.

With the new name change, as well as continued unique programming such as this summer’s Exhibition Tour, ITEC aims to continue growing its reach and scope by further serving as many children as it can.

“We started as one center and have transformed into a social service agency,” said Glodstein. “We are forward-thinking, look for the gaps in society and try to help fill those gaps the best way we can. We teach our children in an environment of inclusiveness, unity, respect, diversity and caring. We believe this will set them on the path to building lasting peace within their communities.”

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com