Northern Champions!

It has been an exciting time for PPI-ME in Northern Israel! The 16-and-under Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars team just won the league championship, and in very decisive fashion: the girls finished the regular season undefeated (20-0).

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The team after their last regular season game

For every girl on the team, it was the first time winning a championship; the fact that it was with this team made it even more special. “We worked so hard all season. Every practice and every game we were pushed by one another and our coach (Dor Dayan). It’s an amazing feeling to have it end in a championship,” says May Zinger (15, Nahariya). “For most of the season we knew we were doing well and we felt it on the court, but none of us really thought about winning the league. We all just wanted to get better individually and as a team during practices and games,” explains Dafna Blianski (16, Nahariya).

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Coach Dor Dayan huddling the team during a time out

The fact that this team of players and coaches tirelessly worked to keep getting better, despite being undefeated, is the reason they finished the regular season in the top spot in the league. Coach Dor Dayan never let the girls get complacent about the championship and constantly looked for ways to keep their mind off it. Every person on this team continued coming to practice and working hard individually so that they could be a better team.

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Ruti cutting the cake after making a short speech

On Sunday, April 30, 2017, the team came together for what they thought was a normal practice to get ready for playoffs, which start in a few weeks. What they didn’t know is that Ruti (chairman of the club) and Dor had a surprise for them. The girls had already finished first in the league, but it had not been acknowledged or celebrated. So, with 30 minutes left in practice, Ruti walked in with an enormous chocolate cake, to congratulate the girls on winning the championship!

Everyone was surprised and excited – who doesn’t love chocolate cake? Ruti made a short speech saying how proud she was of the girls and what the team meant to PPI – ME and to the club. Dor also added a few short words about their commitment and dedication to the team all season. And of course, he reminded the girls (in typical coach Dor fashion) that the season isn’t over yet. They have worked all year for the opportunity to compete in the playoffs, which are fast approaching, and they must continue to work hard. “I am so proud of this team and what they have accomplished all year. The girls worked hard for one another and that is what is most important to me. But, it isn’t over yet. We will see how far we have come as a team once playoffs start. That will be the real test!” says Coach Dor Dayan.

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What a cake! Yummmmmmmmy

If there is anything I have learned from working with this team, it is that they are never satisfied and they always keep working…for one another and with one another.

GOOD LUCK IN THE PLAYOFFS!

The End of an Era Known as “Big Friday”

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The Squad known as “Big Friday”

This week’s blog is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and talks about the “Big Friday” twinnings. A twinning is a joint activity between Arab and Jewish teams where they come together to do fun basketball drills and get to know each other. 

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The participants focusing on balancing the ball

Last Friday, April 21st marked the end of an epic era known as “Big Friday” at Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem. “Big Friday” is special because unlike a typical twinning that usually brings just two teams together, one Arab and one Jewish, a “Big Friday” twinning brings together four teams: two from Keshet (a Jewish school in Jerusalem), a team from Beit Safafa (an Arab village in Jerusalem), and a team from the West Bank.

Aside from all of the participants being ridiculously cute, the energy and enthusiasm they brought to every twinning was contagious. No matter what competition we did or how simple the warm up was, the kids and the coaches were cheering. So much of the energy and atmosphere was because of the amazing Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants who volunteered at every twinning and really encouraged the kids to cheer, dance, laugh, and made them feel comfortable.

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Having fun at the dribbling station

Some might speculate that “Big Friday” twinnings were dear to my heart because there was usually at least one team that incorporated my name, LaToya, into their chosen team name or big competitions (e.g. Mama LaToya, Princess LaToya, Grandma LaToya), but I’m sure that’s purely coincidental. The energy was always great at “Big Fridays” and the LDP seemed to have just as much fun as the kids.

While I’m sad that the “Big Friday” twinnings have come to an end, I’m glad they ended well — with lots of cheering, a little dancing, and tons of smiles. I will miss seeing all of my little buddies once a month on Friday, but I will cherish the awesome memories we made over the seven Fridays we came together during this programming cycle.

PPI-ME in High Gear During the Passover Holiday

 

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A leadership workshop led by PPI Organizational Learning Specialist, Joe Smith.

This week’s blog post is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and shares some of the fun activities that PPI-ME participants did during the Passover holiday break.

Most people in Israel spend the Passover holiday with their families, traveling, and of course, missing bread and other grain products. For PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) participants, this year’s holiday meant all of those things and more — it also meant becoming better leaders, working on basketball skills, and uncovering hidden talents.

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The participants having a little fun during a break

PPI-ME kicked off the holiday break with a two-day leadership workshop in Jerusalem led by PPI Organizational Learning Specialist, Joe Smith, who was visiting from PPI’s Washington, D.C. office. The first day of the workshop was intended for PPI-ME coaches and focused on how to teach life skills alongside basketball skills. Currently, an American fellow or other facilitator drops into basketball practices and uses valuable practice time to speak with participants about topics, such as trust, teamwork, communication, and other themes in PPI-ME’s curriculum. However, Joe showed the coaches how easy it is for them to incorporate these themes into their coaching. Having the coaches deliver life skills training and facilitate discussions while coaching is effective because they have already established a strong bond with the players.

The second day of the workshop was for the Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants. The theme of the workshop was the impact that sport has on their daily lives. Participants discussed the lessons they learn from playing sports and came up with fun drills based on different themes, such as overcoming a disadvantage and teamwork.

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Participants at the end of the three-day basketball skills camp with retired professional basketball player, Edniesha Curry

During the second half of the holiday break, PPI-ME hosted a three-day basketball skills camp, also in Jerusalem. The camp was led by PPI-ME’s Under-18 All-Star team coach, Rebecca Ross, and former PPI-ME fellow and retired professional basketball player, Edniesha Curry. The camp focused on strengthening the players’ fundamental basketball skills, such as lay-ups, dribbling, and jump shots. During the last 30 minutes of each day, there was a scrimmage and you could clearly see that the players’ skills had improved each day.

Breaks during the three-day camp seemed to turn into mini talent shows, with players showing off the their hidden talents, such as tumbling, dancing, and being double-jointed — and then challenging me to see if I could complete the task. I am happy to say that I can still nail a cartwheel, back bend and round-off like it’s my job after, but I definitely cannot bend backwards like a seal and make my feet touch my head.

Ironically, the holiday break ended up being busier than our usual work days, but there was so much laughter and joy, it didn’t feel like work.

Visiting the Nahariya Twinning, I Discovered a New Nahariya

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Some of the participants from Tamra and Nahariya strike a pose

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI – ME) blog post was written by Yossi Levin, PPI – ME’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.

In a small gym in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, I witnessed an amazing site last month – one that I was not expecting.

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Some of the girls watching their teammates play

I grew up in Nahariya and have seen it grow from a tiny community in the 1970s and 80s to an expanse of Mediterranean seaside family complexes today. When I grew up in Nahariya, it felt like I was growing up on the wrong “side” of Israeli society – it was a neglected periphery – but on that Thursday last month, I saw Nahariya shine in a way that I never expected.

I joined PeacePlayers five months ago and this was the first “twinning” I attended. I am a long-time veteran of Middle East peace initiatives, however, and thought I’d seen it all. But when I stepped into the small gym where the twinning was taking place to film part of the activity, I was taken back. I grew up only about two blocks away from the gym where the activity was being held, but it was nothing like any activity that took place there when I was a kid growing up in Nahariya. Jewish kids from Nahariya and Arab kids from Tamra, a nearby Arab village, practiced basketball drills together, all the while chatting and laughing. Following the drills, the teams sat together in a circle with their local coaches, Shady (Tamra’s coach) and Courtney (Nahariya’s coach), along with PPI – ME facilitator, Githa, to translate the basketball skills into life skills. The kids were encouraged to speak about their experiences, to reach out and touch each other through games, and many hugged at the end of the session.

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The girls sharing some laughs

I watched the activity from the bleachers and what I saw should make every parent of that group proud and every participant even prouder. It all seemed beautifully natural to the kids. Twenty years ago, I sat in that very place and never saw or spoke to Arabs, and certainly never touched one, even though I grew up surrounded by Arab villages.

It all seemed so natural to the kids – seamless and easy – but to me it looked like magic.

What’s Going on Jerusalem? A Recap of the Last Few Months at PPI-ME

 

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Some of PPI-ME’s Leadership Development Program participants posing on the beach at Peace Camp

This week’s PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME) blog post is written by American Fellow, LaToya Fisher, and is a recap of the activities that have taken place in the Jerusalem area over the past few months.

Peace Camps

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The participants at the end of the Peace Camp

Peace Camps are overnight retreats that bring together Arab and Jewish participants from East and West Jerusalem and the West Bank for intensive basketball, educational and trust-building trust activities. There have been two Camps in the past few months, and they have been really successful. Highlights include a dance-off between American Fellow LaToya Fisher and the younger participants and seeing the Leadership Development Program (LDP) participants, who help run the Camps, turn into amazing leaders and coaches. At the most recent Peace Camp, participants did a basketball activity that involved learning new basketball terms in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It was fun to watch participants learn and use new terms right away. Sadly, there will only be one more Peace Camp during this program year; it takes place in May.

Youth Entrepreneurship Program

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The ladies of PeaceStagram during their nature session

In the Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP), the girls of PeaceStagram have started taking photographs for their gallery showing and the ladies of Girls Gone Green (GGG) have created more masterpieces for their upcoming exhibit. YEP has brought in special guests like Muayad, a professional photographer from Jerusalem, who has traveled internationally, and gave the girls neat tips and tricks to take their photographs to the next level. Both projects will be displaying their work to the public at the end of April or in early May.

Twinnings

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The girls of Ein Kerem (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school) during a twinning

All of the school and community basketball teams in the Jerusalem area that work with PPI-ME participate in twinnings – joint activities between Arab and Jewish teams – and this season, the twinnings have been a lot of fun. In one twinning between the boys of Tal Shachar (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school), a Jewish participant who wanted to know an Arab participant’s name asked him “What’s your name?” in Arabic. The Arab participant smiled and was impressed to hear the Jewish participant speaking Arabic. It really helped to set the mood for the twinning. In another twinning between the girls of Ein Kerem (Jewish school) and Ein Rafa (Arab school), one of the Arab participants tried to learn all of the names of the girls from Ein Kerem, which proved to be a difficult task, but the girls from Ein Kerem appreciated the effort.

In sum, things are going well in Jerusalem as we head into the Passover holiday. Even though it’s a holiday, however, things won’t slow down much here at PPI-ME. Coaching clinics and leadership workshops will be taking place during the break, and once the kids head back to school, twinnings and practices will resume. Stay tuned!

In-Season Update: Nahariya/Tamra 14-and-Under All-Stars Team

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The team huddles together after a big win against Arabe

It has been a fun and exciting year for PeacePlayers International – Middle East’s (PPI-ME) Nahariya/Tamra 14-and-under All-Star team. This past week they officially moved into second place in their league, and with four games left in the season they are still within striking distance of first place. As we close in on the end of the season, we want to recap some of the memorable moments of the season and take a look at how this team has grown throughout the year.

The 14-and-under All-Stars have made huge strides on the court this year. This past week, with their win over Arabe, they officially moved into second place in their league. It was a very intense game and the team was down by as much as 11 points in the first half before taking control and winning the game by 10 points. It was a whole team effort and showed the determination and resilience the team has. Another thrilling win came a month ago after beating Kaokab, a team that hasn’t lost in two seasons. “It was so exciting! All of the players (including those on the bench) felt the tension and were completely into the game. It was so much fun for everyone and we were so happy,” said Noam (13, Nahariya).

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Lilian going for a layup during a game this season

The personal connections between the girls on the team also grew significantly this season. This became especially evident when the girls started planning activities together outside of practices and games. One of the most unforgettable times was when they came together for Roni’s birthday party. “Roni’s birthday was amazing. It was so great celebrating it with the whole team. We laughed and really talked and it was a fun and bonding evening for everyone,” explains Noam.

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Courtney, Alhan and some of the team members on the bench before a game

It has been such an enjoyable year for everyone involved with the Nahariya/Tamra All-Stars. The coaches continue to work hard to help the girls become better both individually and as a team, and it really shows. They have grown so much together on and off the court and it has been special to witness. When Roni was asked about this season, this was her response: “Last year we were just playing together. This year we became great friends. I am just as close to the girls from Tamra as I am to the Nahariya girls.” Noam agrees that their connection has intensified, “It is much stronger this year. We really talk with each other and all of the girls are very open with each other.”

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Selfie time! The team celebrating after a win

Everyone at PPI-ME is excited to see what the future holds for these girls. Their determination, compassion, effort and teamwork are qualities that every team should try to emulate. Their togetherness inspires us all.

PPI-ME Wishes Everyone A Happy International Women’s Day!

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Three PPI-ME participants having fun at a practice in Tamra

On March 8th each year, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD is a day to reflect on the circumstances of women around the world, to commit to helping women and girls achieve their dreams, and to help forge a more gender-inclusive world. IWD brings attention to the fact that millions of women around the world face discrimination and hardship every day. IWD encourages all of us to help build and maintain more inclusive societies.

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Nitsan, Jinan and Aya keeping score at a PPI-ME activity

At PeacePlayers International – Middle East (PPI-ME), we are keenly aware of the myriad obstacles that women face to full and equal treatment and participation in many societies around the world. In both Palestinian and Israeli societies, women face numerous barriers which often prevent their participation in sports and other community activities. Many girls are lacking the support systems they need to get involved in programs like PPI-ME. For every 100 Palestinian boys who play at sports clubs, only 28 girls do the same. In Israel, women aged 13 and older make up only 12% of athletes and less than 8% of trainers.

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Yasmeen enjoying a Big Friday Twinning in Jerusalem

These shocking statistics are one of the many reasons that we at PPI-ME focus on engaging females in our programs and are proud to say that 70% of our participants are female – many of whom come from conservative and underprivileged communities where opportunities are scarce. PPI-ME gives female participants the opportunity to participate in sports programs that may not be available in their communities, to develop skills and experience that boost their confidence and increase their employ-ability, and to meet people they would most likely otherwise never have the chance to meet.

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Githa (PPI-ME Project Manager in the North) at a bowling activity with participants from Meiser and Kfar Saba

IWD is a chance to celebrate the courageous, powerful and beautiful women who make choices everyday that promote gender equality and it’s a chance for us at PPI-ME to celebrate the young girls and women who combat social norms in Palestine and Israel. IWD is about unity, inclusion, bridging divides and changing perceptions – all of the things that PeacePlayers advocates for on a daily basis. We at PPI-ME are so proud of our participants and everyone we work with, who actively contribute to women’s equality and who strengthen their communities by doing so. Happy IWD to everyone!

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Courtney (American Fellow) with PPI-ME participants after a Twinning in Northern Israel

#WhoRunTheWorld #Girls