My inspiration for this story came recently whilst biting my nails watching the Wimbledon Tennis tournament. What better time, I thought, to tell you of another remarkable tennis activity, this time created in Israel thanks to the initiative of an Englishman Freddie Krivine.
Born in Harrogate in 1920 and educated in England and France, at 15 he attended an agricultural college in mandatory Palestine where he learned to speak Hebrew and developed a lifelong attachment to the country. He returned to Britain in 1938 and at the outbreak of World War II, joined the Household Cavalry before being invalided out in 1944.
Krivine was known as the quintessential charming English gentleman. He had a successful career in business, and, as a generous philanthropist who loved playing tennis, he, with five friends from South Africa and the United States, established the Israel Tennis Centres in 1975. Prior to this there were no such facilities in the country.
Freddie settled in Israel in 1984 and continued his involvement with tennis. As Director of Women’s Tennis, he worked tirelessly to ensure the most talented girls could play on the international circuit. As a result, for several years Israel had three women players (Smashnova, Obziler and Peer) in the top hundred. He rapidly became known as Israel’s ‘Mr Tennis’ and in 1992 was elected President of the Israel Tennis Association.
In 1998 Freddie became troubled by the lack of Israeli Arab players and established a committee at the time under the auspices of the Israel Tennis Centres to give Jewish and Arab children the chance to get to know each other through the sport. His plan was to reach out to Muslim, Christian, Druze and Bedouin children living in some of the lowest socio-economic villages in Israel.
Youngsters were encouraged to participate in tournaments and soon developed the confidence to overcome their fear of leaving their villages to take part. Freddie also placed emphasis on tennis for girls – showing their sometimes conservative families that their daughters would be quite safe, and could develop useful skills from this non-contact sport.
Freddie always believed in the need for training Arab youngsters as sports instructors, physical education teachers and tennis coaches. Up to now, more than 35 FKI scholarships have enabled young players to take the internationally recognised professional training certificate to be able to secure employment nationwide.
Freddie Krivine passed away in 2005. At the time of his death, the Foundation was running tennis programs that were reaching hundreds of children. His daughter Jane had assisted her father since 2003 and, being familiar with their activities, immediately took over the reins and decided to continue all the programmes.
In terms of personal success stories, Dunja Imram al Sous of East Jerusalem began tennis aged 10 at the Israel Tennis Centre in the city thanks to Freddie who paid for her transport to and from lessons, changing taxis four times each day to get through the checkpoints. Later on the newly formed FKI paid for her coaching until, aged 18, she received a full tennis scholarship to Michigan Tech University in the US. Today she coaches tennis in Dubai, retaining a close friendship with FKI.
A Beduin girl, Ruan Zubidate, from the village of Bizmat Tivon, showed great talent with an exciting career as a talented junior. She is now a sports teacher at a school in her home village, still playing tennis – having never lost her warm smile and a wicked serve.
Some years ago, FKI joined up with a project in Boston, US, called ‘Tenacity’ which each summer takes over school and college tennis courts in the city to teach tennis and help with school subjects for 5,000 deprived inner city kids. For this they need 250 volunteer tennis coaches, and to provide this FKI invited young Arab tennis coaches from the village of Jisr-az-Zarqa and Fureidis to train underprivileged kids in the city. These visitors to Boston certainly widened their horizons being able to practice tennis but also to improve their ‘English’- albeit with an American accent!
Freddie’s first programme, for 25 children from Fureidis, Jisr a Zarka and Caesarea, continued for many years after his death. Of the Arab participants, five became doctors, and one became a vet, opening the first ever animal clinic in his village. And two became professional tennis coaches. Abraham Fahmwe works for the Israel Tennis Centre in Haifa, and Mohamad Rashwan is the Head Coach of the Freddie Krivine Initiative.
Today with a staff of five, FKI runs three after-school Tennis and Homework clubs in the villages of Fureidis, Baqa al-Gharbiye and Beit Hananya for the children from Jisr A Zarqa and neighbouring Jewish villages. They also have several in-school programs, commissioned by the schools themselves as special activities or programs especially designed to help at-risk kids. FKI has several teams comprising local Arab children who play in regional and local tournaments, summer camps, and holiday meets.
It is heartwarming to learn of the extent of their work and the impact it can have on young lives. I have written in the past about the inestimable value of learning any skill to a high level, for example the work of the Hassadna Music School in Jerusalem. It has been well recorded and acknowledged that children who receive such a ‘gift’ develop the self esteem and confidence which invariably enables them to succeed in many other areas of life.
Another major aspect of FKI’s work – one that has great significance for Israel’s complex society, is the door it opens for youngsters from different cultures to mix socially and get to understand one another, the value of which has been demonstrated so clearly in recent weeks.
Whilst I was researching this story, Jane Krivine updated me on their activities which I copy below…
“Six weeks ago, when the skies of Israel were alight with missiles, extremists from both sides were throwing stones and attacking cars driving past Jewish Binyamina and Arab Jisr-az-Zarqa. Today children from both these towns meet and play together, forming bonds and challenging stereotypes. Parents from both communities frequently tell me how delighted they are that their children take part in the camps.
When our Israel school year came to an end recently, our week-long summer camp got off to a roaring success. Twenty teenage girls from Arab and Jewish villages came together to play tennis and make new friends.
Every day from 08:30-12:30 they played tennis, got to know each other and had workshops including cooking, beach tennis, Arabic language, Japanese calligraphy, team building, drama, biscuit decorating and Qi Mong.
We also spent a day visiting the village of Jisr-Az-Zarqa. We cleaned up the beach together and made necklaces from shells. At the end of the camp all the girls asked that they could meet again on a regular basis – we are already planning a mother-daughter event at the end of this month.
Also in July we will hold a camp for 30 boys and girls, aged 10-12. We are fortunate that, thanks to our amazing camp counsellors, staff, coaches, project managers and workshop volunteers we have a great community of supporters without whom we could not function.
Once this Covid saga ends, we would love to welcome visitors from Israel and abroad, to introduce you to the children and coaches and if you come ready to play tennis with the kids, all the better. For more information: http://www.fkf-tennis.org, or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/freddiekrivine or call 00972-547-405-047.
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There is no doubt that children who play together can certainly learn to live together. This valuable lesson is one that must be preserved and handed on to future generations to try to build a better society.
But this story is just one of many other initiatives operating today between Arabs and Jews in Israel and covering just about every aspect of life – communal, professional, creative and artistic.
I look forward to the time I can return there to visit, research and write about some of them in order to introduce you to some more of the good things in life……. Watch this space… Ruth