This week’s blog post was written by PPI – ME volunteer Jackie Zitelman, who shared her experiences and her photos from the Spring Tournament.
I recently finished my undergraduate degree at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya where I majored in Conflict Resolution. Throughout my studies I learned about different theories and ways to resolve conflicts as well as practical ways to bring conflicting groups together. While we briefly touched upon sports as a means of bridging cultural divides, I never truly understood the impact basketball could have on bringing two divided groups together until I volunteered with PeacePlayers this summer.
The Spring Tournament, which took place at the end of June, was my first experience with PeacePlayers. Coming to the tournament, I had no idea what to expect. How would the kids who speak Arabic understand the kids who speak Hebrew? Would they mingle with one another or would they just keep to their own familiar groups? As soon as I came onto the basketball court I was greeted by tens of girls wearing PeacePlayers uniforms with huge smiles on their faces. I could not tell who was Arab and who was Jewish, who came from Tel Aviv or who came from East Jerusalem. To me, and more importantly to one another, they were all basketball-loving kids who just wanted to have a good time.
I was given the position as co-coach with one of the older girls in the program who couldn’t play because she had injured her ankle. We cheered our team on and yelled “Defense,” the girls on the team showed a real sense of personal responsibility and took control of their game. The day was filled with so many fun activities besides basketball. After our first game we went to the “lacrosse station” where the girls learned the basics of throwing and catching a lacrosse ball. All of the girls were on the same page since no one had ever seen a lacrosse stick before. Nevertheless, they all had fun learning a new sport.
Following lacrosse, we moved on to painting the PeacePlayers mural. By the time it was our team’s turn to paint the mural, there wasn’t very much empty space left to paint. But leave it to a bunch of young girls to find something to paint: They decided to paint each other! No sooner had the paint dried and the girls needed to get back into basketball mode. Our second game was much more colorful than the first! After our second game we went from jumping on a huge trampoline to playing ‘bankshot-basketball,’ a challenging but fun shooting game where you go through an obstacle course of brightly-colored, curved, and angled backboards of varying heights and try to get the basketball in the net while hitting all angles of the non-conventional backboard. The girls really enjoyed the challenge and had a great time!
The smiles that greeted me from the beginning were contagious. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing the entire day. I was smiling not just because I was having an incredible time coaching and hanging out with the girls, but more so because I felt good about being a part of PeacePlayers. It is heartwarming to see children who under usual circumstances would not have the opportunity to even meet each other, playing basketball together in total harmony. While the Spring Tournament was my first time volunteering with PeacePlayers, it surely will not be my last.