[by Phyllis Shaikun]
David Hess, a 17-year-old student at DuPont Manual High School, is a pretty competent tennis player – a talent that allowed him to spend three weeks in Israel this past summer, just for the cost of round-trip plane fare to Newark, NJ. In fact, the program that sponsored his visit, the Israel Sports Exchange, is currently recruiting young Jewish swimmers and tennis players (girls and boys ages 15-18) to train and compete in Israel next summer.
Hess’ tennis coach at the University of Louisville (where he takes weekly lessons) heard about ISE program and told him about it. Hess’ mother, Ann, did some research and they both became excited about the possibility of his participation. “It sounded like it would be more exciting than returning to Camp GUCI in Zionsville, IN,” said the teen, “and the cost to my parents (his dad is Joel Sokoloff) would be minimal.”
The ISE is a not-for-profit organization created to help subsidize a substantial portion of the costs involved in giving Jewish teen athletes the opportunity to participate in local, national, and international sporting events in Israel. “The program accepts athletes of all different levels,” says Hess, “and helps show them that kids from Israel and those from the U.S. are pretty much the same.”
In addition to playing tennis every other day during their stay (he reports there are tennis courts throughout Israel), the team frequently competed in tournaments against Israeli teams. The Israelis were very talented and the U.S. team lost both singles and doubles matches to them. While Hess enjoyed the sports side of his trip, the cultural aspects made the visit there “definitely worthwhile. I left there with a better understanding of Israel,” said Hess, “and I learned more about Jewish culture as well.”
The team stayed in Jerusalem for three days (he says he will never forget the tunnels beneath the city and found the wall very emotional) and then left to see the sights in Jaffa, Caesarea, Eilat and on Israel’s northern border. They stayed in kibbutzim, private homes and hotels along the way and had the chance to ride camels (his had ticks and kept kicking up), tour an army installation in the north and visit Yad Vashem. They also saw the results of the devastating forest fire that hit northern Israel last summer.
His ISE experience will be beneficial as Hess continues to teach and tutor bar/bat mitzvah candidates at The Temple on Sundays and Wednesdays. A chess player, he also volunteers with the Chess Club at Dunn Elementary School. Between his coursework in Manual’s Math, Science and Technology program, weekly tennis lessons at UofL and tennis clinics on Monday, Fridays and Saturdays at the Louisville Tennis Center, he has little free time. However, he does squeeze in some time for video games, hanging out with friends and a little TV too. He hopes to attend Purdue University and pursue a career as an actuary.
The ISE has programs available during the summer and on a personal basis throughout the year. For information about the various programs, including the 2012 summer session, July 18-August 5, contact Larry Seidman at (973) 952-0405 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.israeli-sports-exchange.com.