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The Israel Tennis Center has opened a new center in the Druse village of Sajur, in hopes of promoting coexistence through sports.
The Galilee Tennis Center, which held its opening meeting last week, is meant to serve as a meeting ground for different communities in the area. A village of 4,000, Sajur is surrounded by Druse, Christian Arab and Muslim Arab villages, as well as Jewish towns and the city of Karmiel.
"It's a unique initiative of the ITC," explained Janine Strauss, the institution's CEO. "We want to bring together different ethnic groups in the area. This will be the flagship of coexistence in the region."
The ITC has been a major force in Israel's athletic world since its creation 30 years ago. With 14 centers around the country, 350,000 people - 5% of the population - have graduated from ITC programs.
Sports have long been proven to break down preexisting barriers by creating trust and respect among individuals from different backgrounds. The center hopes its programming can demonstrate the universal language and power of sports.
The center is already running at full speed, working with the National Schmid Committee for Youth at Risk to cater to 1,500 kindergarteners in an environment stressing the appreciation and acceptance of different cultures and religions.
The newest, and youngest, participants in the ITC would become the future of the center, Strauss predicted.
"With the Schmid Committee, we will teach these kids values at a very early age," Strauss said. "The center will promote a healthy lifestyle, nonviolence and acceptanceâ€¦ the goal is to reach as many children as we can, regardless of background."
Through equal-opportunity funds and programs, the Galilee Tennis Center hopes to attract children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to take part in athletic programming.
At the festive kick-off meeting, attended by community members and individuals from around the world, Charles Reisman, general manager and head of territory of BNP Paribas Israel, provided scholarships to area children.
Religious leaders of the Druse, Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities gathered in the hall along with Muslim, Christian and Beduin coaches to celebrate the center and the 1,500 new tennis players from surrounding areas.
The community and athletic leaders were joined by Galilee dignitaries, representatives from the Kennedy-Leigh Charitable Trust, members of the Education Ministry and Welfare Department, and dozens of members from the ITC's International Board of Directors.
"These communities didn't always get the attention they deserve," Strauss said. "Coming to the Galilee, we [the ITC] were told that children did not have any activities in the afternoon."
These days, the children of Sajur have not only an afternoon activity, but an afternoon education, whether they realize it or not.
"Through the values of sports, we help to empower and engage," Strauss explained. "We hope to give the kids the possibility of learning the game of life through tennis."