Dozens of invited guests packed a Yorkville restaurant to check out a silent auction that raised money for the Israel Tennis Centers (ITC) and to hear from a number of special guests about the ongoing community commitment to the ITC.
All in all, the 10th annual Invitational Tennis Pro Am raised more than $300,000 in a series of men’s and women’s tournaments involving amateurs and professionals, held at the York Racquets Club.
Thanks to the goodwill of many Canadians, tennis is challenging soccer and basketball for popularity in the land of milk and honey.
In 1979, Canada Stadium was inaugurated at the ITC’s Ramat Hasharon location thanks to the support of Canadians.
In the past four decades, tennis blossomed because of a network of ITC facilities. Jewish, Christian and Muslim children of all ages get a chance to play at 14 locations scattered across the country.
According to ITC Canada’s executive director, Toby Rosner, the 2013 event may have been one of the best.
“It has been a huge success,” said Rosner. “So many people worked very hard and we’re absolutely delighted to have reached our goal and donations keep coming in.”
Rosner said this year’s event highlighted a variety of tennis professionals and guest celebrities who were auctioned off to play alongside others in a series of tennis matches.
Rosner also confirmed the ITC would name a tennis court in Israel to honour the memory of former York Racquets Club member Ian Wexler, who died last March.
Harel Levy, one of Israel’s all-time top tennis players, now retired, was among the celebrity group auctioned off to compete. Others included Canadian Davis Cup player Jesse Levine and former tennis pro turned commentator Brad Gilbert.
“Kids have a place to learn, to have fun, to meet others, to play tennis,” said the 35-year-old Levy, now director of the centre’s high performance tennis program.
Levy still talks about his 2001 Italian Open victory over Pete Sampras, a former world No. 1 player.
“There are things like that victory you never forget,” said Levy, who also reached the final of the Toronto Masters tourney 13 years ago and had a career-high world ranking of No. 30 in singles.
“Kids in Israel look for role models. We’re trying to grow the next generation of Israeli tennis players, and it’s not easy. Anytime you can take kids off the street and give them a productive opportunity, like playing tennis, I think it’s marvelous,” he said.
Levine, who lived in Ottawa before moving to Florida, turned pro at age 19. He’s played on Canada’s Davis Cup team and is still hoping to crack Canada’s Olympic team for 2016. But he’s not used to being put up for auction.
“I told my mother that I was being auctioned off,” laughed Levine. “I told her it was all for a good cause: to help young Israeli tennis players.”
“Tennis has been good to me, and it’s always great to give back. It’s a mitzvah to help others,” said Levine, who has never been to Israel. “In Florida, I have watched young Israeli tennis players. Some of these kids have lots of talent and need to be given chances to get better.”
Dvora Marsha knows it all too well. Now 29 years old, she came to Israel in Operation Solomon – the migration of thousands of Ethiopian Jews in 1991 – and, able to develop in tennis, became one of Israel’s top female players.
“Tennis can change a child’s life, and it had a huge impact on me in Israel,” she said. “They gave me equipment, shoes, lessons and lots of confidence. It’s hard to say where I would be now without that support.
“I went on to coach competitive programs and help others the way I was helped. My biggest highlight is working with kids – because I see myself from years ago.”
Rosner said Canada has raised more than $20 million in almost four decades and the money has gone toward improving the lives of children in Israel, through the game of tennis.