Sir Cliff Richard’s tennis trip to Nazareth

Singer visits school bringing Arab, Jewish kids together.

By BEN ROSENFELD
July 11, 2013 05:11
2 minute read.
Sir Cliff Richard playing tennis in Nazareth.

Sir Cliff Richard playing tennis in Nazareth370. (photo credit: David Katz)

 
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On his first day in Israel, famed British pop singer Cliff Richard didn’t have a microphone in hand, but a tennis racket.

The 72-year-old avid tennis player arrived in Israel on Monday – first to perform two concerts at Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena on Thursday and Saturday – and then requested to take time out at the beginning of his trip to visit the Nazareth Tennis School, which houses two tennis courts that he helped fund.

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Yet this particular tennis school is about much more than just sport, it presents an opportunity to bring young children together.

“When anybody does anything to do with tennis and young people, what you’re hoping for ultimately is for them to grow up having tennis as a sport to play,” said Richard during his visit to the school on Tuesday. “It’s a very social sport, it’s easy to play, you make a lot of friends, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Richard became involved with the school in 2004 in an effort to promote coexistence among the city’s Jewish and Arab youth.

The school, located on the grounds of the YMCA, is a Nazareth landmark that was founded by 76-year-old Nazareth resident Salomon Hamed. He explained on Tuesday that he started playing tennis at the age of seven and was taught the game by British officers while working as a ball boy.

In 1997, he went to the YMCA and asked about land to build tennis courts. He was told the city actually had two courts, but they were old and dilapidated.



Looking for funds to refurbish the facilities, Hamed was put in touch with philanthropist Freddy Krivine through former Israeli tennis pro Shahar Perkiss. Krivine, who was the president of the Israel Tennis Association until his death in 2005, used his foundation to introduce Israeli Arab children to tennis and then use the sport to introduce Jewish and Arab children to each other.

“I went to visit him over 20 times at his home in Caesarea.

I wanted to make sure we would make this project happen,” Hamed said.

After Krivine passed away, his daughter Jane sent a letter to Richard asking him if he would like to contribute to the project. To Krivine and Hamed’s delight, Richard responded that he would love to be involved with the project, including a check for two new tennis courts to be built.

In 2005, these courts were opened to the children of Nazareth.

Today, there are 140 children that learn tennis on these courts, including seven-year-old Natalie, who is considered to be one of the top tennis players of her age group in Israel.

“These courts give me a chance to get better every day, and to work at the sport I love,” she said with a big smile on her face.

“The ultimate, ultimate goal however, would be for one of these youngsters to show up in the first round at Wimbledon,” Richard said to a cheering crowd. “There is no reason why the next world champion can’t come from Israel.”

Richard told the children playing that he had very high hopes for their future.

“When you make it to the first round at Wimbledon, I will come and cheer for you.

Even if you are playing an English player I will come and cheer for you to win, and if you are playing an English player you probably will win!”

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