Coaching for Peace

1115teddyMy daughter Rebecca (26) is a professional basketball player in Israel and is also a much sought-after coach. She is in her second year coaching for PeacePlayers International; below are her reflections on the experience. 

In August 2014, I moved back to Jerusalem to play on the city’s professional women’s team. My basketball career has always included coaching as well as playing so I accepted a position to coach the 9th-10th grade girls team that is part of the same club as my professional team. I had heard that the girls team had Arabs on it, but that fact didn’t really register with me until my first practices with the team (when I heard the Arab girls speaking Arabic with each other). From practice to practice, and without even noticing it, I found myself thinking a lot about my Arab players because they are simply great girls. They are girls who just want to play ball and have a fair shot at success in life, and yet who were born in a very complicated place that doesn’t see them as human beings and doesn’t give them a real chance to succeed.

The integrity of our team was tested on November 18 when, early in the morning, four people were killed in a terror attack at a synagogue that was about an 8-minute drive from the gym where we practice. As a religious Jew I was shocked and hurt when I first heard about the attack, but when I showed up to practice later that day, everything was normal. By then everyone knew all of the details of what had happened, but I didn’t mention the attack—I decided to leave all of the politics off the court. The girls practiced normally; they smiled and enjoyed as usual. After that practice I understood that even though we live in “war,” we can still make a difference through the small things.

Peace is a very big word, but I believe that until we have peace, we need to learn how to live together and get along. When I see my young Arab players get along so well with my Jewish players, it gives me hope and fills my heart with happiness. Almost every kid loves sports, and sports are an amazing way to bring all the different peoples, cultures and religions together.

A decade ago I would never have imagined myself studying Arabic, and yet that is what I am now doing. The author of my Arabic textbook (a 90-year-old French monk named Yohanan Elihai who has lived in Israel since 1956), writes that “language is the key to the heart.” My heart was opened by my Arab players and so it feels natural for me to want to learn how to communicate with them in Arabic. I guess when you come from love, and basketball is my love, anything is possible. Play ball. Ela’ab eltaba.

Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.

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