Hof Ashkelon Sports For All

In 2008, the TIPS Partnership2Gether program started an outdoor mini-soccer league for high school boys. The need was great. After elementary school, youth from the same moshav often went to different secondary schools so they didn’t see their childhood friends and felt very disconnected from their community. After school, on the weekends and during vacations, they often had little to do and delinquency was on the rise, especially vandalism and under-age drinking. The hope was that this mini-soccer league would raise their sense of community and give them something to do during their free time, thus reducing anti-social behavior.

The results were just what was expected, but the most spectacular results were in the group of boys from Nitzan B where most of these young men were from families that were evacuated from the Gaza strip almost 7 years ago, uprooted from the only homes they had ever known to live in small, crowded trailers. Many of their parents were unemployed and faced a bleak future. They told the teens not to join the army of the country that had treated them so badly. These teens too were very angry at Israel for how they had been treated. Many of the teens started to drink, use drugs, and participate in other negative activities.

The first youth from Nitzan that formed a mini-soccer league were sullen and negative. They didn’t want to follow instructions. It was very hard to work with them at first. But Itzik, the director of sports for Hof Ashkelon, kept on working with them, and little by little, they started to turn around. They participated in the league, became a group, and had pride in their team being one of the top teams in the league. Itzik sent some of these young men to sports leadership programs, and some then became coaches for younger teams.

Although most regional programs take a break for July and August, Itzik saw that this mini-soccer league had to continue, and he carried it through the summer. After practice he arranged for the boys to swim for a greatly reduced price at the pool at nearby Kfar Silver. Slowly the boys began to gain more positive views of themselves and Israel through participation in this team sports league and they too changed the views of their parents.

Parents were now proud of what their sons had accomplished and both sons and parents saw themselves as a part of Israel, in spite of what happened to them, and have started to give back to Israel. The older boys from Nitzan, after graduating from high school, started to join the army and they have become members of combat units.

This year there are 25 teens from Nitzan B in the mini-soccer league. There are so many that they have formed two teams. And the team is so good, that Itzik arranged for them to participate in a larger regional league also, where the team members proudly wear their team shirts with the names of Hof Ashkelon and also TIPS Partnership 2Gether. Itzhik wants to expand the program to include indoor mini-soccer and regular soccer. The teens want so much to do more.

This program has succeeded beyond anyone’ expectations, but mostly because it has “saved the souls” of the boys in Nitzan.

Written by Dina Tanner (U.S. People2People Chair)

About jewishpartner