Backhands and baselines vs. bombs and bullets


Marty Ross and Yoni Yair believe tennis can do a lot to bring people together.

That’s why Mr. Ross has teamed with his wife, Harriet, and friends Ellen and Steve Wechsler to sponsor a private tennis exhibition, presentation and reception at their Wycliffe Golf & Country Club Stadium Resort in Wellington on March 9. The event is geared to support the efforts of the Israel Tennis Centers, of which Mr. Yair is vice president of development.

“The ITC was founded 41 years ago,” Mr. Ross said. “Back then the organizers realized a large part of the Israel population — about 35 percent — was underprivileged and the kids in those families couldn’t possibly grow up to contribute to this world. So they came up with the idea of building tennis centers and use them as classrooms to create a sense of security and coexistence, socialization and education.”

Mr. Yair confirmed the effort has been tremendously successful, citing that he is a personal product of its program.

“I came to the tennis center as one of the first children who attended it, just outside of Tel Aviv,” Mr. Yair said. “And most of the ITC centers are intentionally set in poor neighborhoods.”

The ITC is one of the largest social service organizations for children in Israel, he said, serving over 20,000 children there every year. Its 14 centers stretch from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Beer Sheva in the south, offering disadvantaged kids a safe, structured and nurturing environment. Centers provide tennis instruction, social services and special needs programs as well as afterschool tutoring for kids of all backgrounds including Jewish, Arab, Christian, Bedouin, Druze and immigrant populations.

“We feel that tennis is a great vehicle, a great tool, to bring them through the doors of our programs,” Mr. Yair said. “Over the years we have served more than 500,000 children, which is an incredible number. And what they get from the ITC is a very positive and safe environment where they’re kept off the streets and provided with a great way to get the right values and skills that will help them in life.”

The ITC offers uniquely designed programs to meet the specific needs of the children it attracts, he added. The organization assists youth at risk and those with special needs such as Down Syndrome and autism while welcoming children of new immigrants from Russia and Ethiopia. The ITC also fosters coexistence by bringing together Israeli Jews, Arabs, Bedouins and Druze to play and learn while training them to excel as tennis players. These programs are open to all children living in Israel regardless of background, religious affiliation or economic circumstance. No child is ever turned away.

Mr. Yair said the March 9 event at Wycliffe Golf & Country Club Stadium Resort will feature an exhibition of tennis prowess as well as testimonies from a small contingent of players who have gone through the ITC’s programs.

“For example, we have a girl who will share a first-hand report about her experience and how it has impacted her life,” he said. “We also have a 20-yearold boy who is part of the high-performance program at the ITC for those who get to its top level. A few months ago he got a full scholarship to study at the University of Nevada.”

Also present at the exhibition will be Andy Ram, perhaps the ITC’s most celebrated participant, who is a threetime Grand Slam doubles champion.

“Andy had a dream

to be the best tennis player in the world,” Mr. Yair said. “Through the years he has represented Israel in the Davis Cup, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open. He will demonstrate his tennis skills and speak about his experience of growing up as a boy achieving his dream and serving as an ambassador around the world for the ITC.”

Mr. Ross and Mr. Yair said the March 9 event will serve as a way to raise awareness about the ITC, as well as a fundraiser for the organization to continue its efforts.

“Although our event won’t be open to the public, we want more people to understand what the ITC is doing,” Mr. Ross said. “We want to get as many as possible on the bandwagon to help subsidize this fantastic group.”

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