This upcoming week will mark the third complete month my family and I have spent in Israel. I love it here. Sure, like any country, there is still a great deal for Israel to improve. But improvements aside, as it is I love it. So what is it that I love so much? The spirit of Jewish life that is palpable in each and every step I take here.
So what does that mean? It doesn’t mean that the synagogues are better. I prefer Shul life in America. It doesn’t mean that Kashrut is easier. When I’m outside of Jerusalem, like Tel Aviv for example, it’s not so easy to find Kosher restaurants. For me, the best example of Jewish spirit in everyday life is the Israel Tennis Center.
You see, I married into a tennis family. That means that I had to relearn how to play tennis in order to marry my wife Blair. It means that everyday on vacation with the Rubenstein family is centered around when we play tennis. It means that my children, without any choice in the matter, will be good tennis players whether they like it or not. It means that one of the first places Blair and I visited when we got settled was the Israel Tennis Center, here in Jerusalem.
The Israel Tennis Center (ITC) represents the best way in which Israel infuses Jewish values into everyday life – even secular everyday life. These two sentences from the website regarding the History of the ITC summarize it all:
“The Tennis Center operates programs for children at risk, developmentally challenged children and Ethiopian children from local absorption centers. The tennis center is also an integral part of our Doubles Coexistence Program - our national effort to bring Arab and Jewish children together through the medium of sport and non-formal education.”
Each and every week I grab a cab from the Conservative Yeshiva to Katamon to watch my kids take tennis lessons with Jewish kids who are secular, who are religious, who are rich, who are poor, who are black, who are white – oh yeah, and some kids are not Jewish. The instructors only speak Hebrew. And they emit the “mamash” (really true) Israeli spirit.
My kids love it there. Blair and I love it there. We try to play there on Friday mornings. We have made friends there from America, from France, from all over. Some of them had never heard of Conservative or “Masorti” Judaism before. And perhaps the Jewish ideal will be when Jews become friends without any interest in what denomination we belong to or which traditions we follow. We just invite one another over for Shabbat dinner because it’s who we all are. Perhaps wealthy families paying more so that less fortunate Jewish children can play as well is a Jewish ideal as authentic as Shabbat and Kashrut. Perhaps the center offers hope that all of our children can grow up seeing one another simply as Jews with far more similarities than differences? Perhaps those large foam tennis balls are teaching my children truly powerful Torah.
When I got married, I had to learn to play tennis in order to become close to the woman of my dreams. Likewise, Blair learned a lot about traditional Judaism. I would have never believed that tennis would have allowed me to see the realization of such great Jewish principles. Thank you Rubenstein family for teaching me to play tennis. And thank you Israel and the ITC for showing me how Judaism can be a winner in every way.
To learn more about the ITC, please visit www.israeltenniscenters.org.