These are the girls I play tennis with every Monday and Thursday night.
They come from different backgrounds, religions, households, and socio-economic groups. You don’t see a mix like this coming together and laughing at YouTube videos or taking snapchats during this time of extreme divide. This group of teenage girls break all the rules from 6-8 PM and are an example to all adults who advocate for this terrible separateness.
Two nights a week they come together to escape from the trouble that is their daily lives. The conditions they live in (the neighborhoods I avoid once the sun sets), their single parent homes (because Israel does not recognize some of their fathers as citizens), the necessities they are missing, extracurriculars they can’t afford, and the lack of a safe place to be themselves that I took for granted as a 14, 15, and 16 year old.
The goal of the program is to make them feel empowered. On Mondays they sit in a circle and speak with a woman about different topics like feminism and sex ed. Once all the awkward giggles are out they move on to strength-training and kick my butt in all things exercise. After I catch my breath, we walk to the courts and goof around for 45 minutes. Their first session on Thursdays is a lesson on nutrition and a chance to ask which cereal is the healthiest. Some of them sit next to me and translate the discussion so I can make a fool out of myself and pick the wrong answer to whether or not fat can turn into muscle (they all knew the right answer).
I’m constantly impressed by their intelligence and resilience. These girls are changing my life and they have no idea. I’m worried about not having enough time to adventure around the entire world; they just want to know what candy corn tastes like and if Halloween is as cool as it looks from 6,000 miles away.
You don’t need to know their whole story to learn something from them. Take that picture above and check out all their smiles. They’re not growing up like we did. For most of them, there is no escape from life except the tennis center. Own all that you have. Remember the years you spent slamming your door and pouting over your cellphone being taken away. Look at where you are now. Think about the weekends you get to plan. All that your futures hold. The door you get to walk out of and return home to every night without the slightest bit of dread. Those girls up there are going to rule the world. They’ll get their taste of candy corn and use the voices they’re developing these two nights a week and make a positive impact whether in Israel or beyond.
For now the tennis center is their safe place.
And they are my escape.