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Frisbee for Peace

July 19, 2012 By:
Phyllis Rubin, Jewish Exponent Feature
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Hannah Henkin "lays out" for a catch, displaying her world-class ultimate skill that landed her on the USA Junior World Tournament team. -- Photos by Ohad Segal for Ultimate Peace

 

In 2010, when Hannah Hen­kin was in 10th grade, she was invited to join Israel's under-20 Youth Ultimate (Frisbee) team to compete in the international world championship tournament being held in Germany.

She had founded the girls' ultimate team at Radnor High School the year before and loved the sport.

But to play for Israel, Hen­kin was required to demonstrate dedication to the sport in Israel, so someone suggested she volunteer with Ultimate Peace, a camp in Acre that teaches Israeli and Palestinian youth how to play and live together.

Henkin enjoyed the World Junior Ultimate Championships but she loved the camp.

"It was unlike any experience I'd ever had," she said. "I am so lucky to be in a position to be a role model for these kids."

On June 13, Henkin graduated from high school, where she was awarded Most Valuable Player of her school's team -- which she co-captained to win the state championship -- and on June 26, Henkin headed back to Acre for her third summer as an Ultimate Peace assistant counselor.

"Playing ultimate is always fun," she said, "but then you remember how meaningful it is that these kids are in the same place, playing together, talking and eating and joking together.

"Everyone tries hard to speak English, and even after only a day or two, many will ­often choose to play with new friends. They want to have fun together and build trusting relationships. Every summer, I'm pulled back."

Henkin observed that a peace camp could work with any sport, but ultimate's unique "Spirit of the Game" rules make the game especially conducive to building relationships across cultures.

"You don't just play a game, you learn life lessons," she said of the game that sports seven-member teams playing on a field similar to football. The object of the game is to score points by catching a pass in the opposing end zone. Teamwork is essential to success, because a player must stop running while in possession of the disc and pass it to another player within 10 seconds.

With no referees, players take full responsibility for play on the field, including calling fouls and negotiating disputes.

Ultimate Peace draws 200 campers, ages 10 to 16, with an even mix of Arabs, Jews and Palestinians of varied economic backgrounds. Girls and boys play on separate teams,

Held at a boarding school facility, the program was founded in 2009 by two international ultimate champions -- David Barkan, an American consultant on conflict management, and Dori Yaniv, an Israeli engineer -- along with Linda Sidorsky, a youth ultimate organizer based in Boston. Camp coaches and translators are ultimate players from Israel, the United States and around the world. To reduce costs, all are volunteers who pay their own way, often through fundraising.

This year so many children signed up for the camp that it was extended to two weeklong sessions that ended July 14.

Henkin described a "really cool" spontaneous interaction she had in the girls' dorm at camp one evening with a mix of Arab (both Palestinian and Israeli) and Jewish Israeli camp­ers, and one Arab-Israeli coach. "The debka is a dance very important to the Arab culture, and they wanted us Jews to know it. Somebody brought out their iPod and played ethnic Arab music, then they taught the dance to me and the other Jewish Israelis. It was a beautiful experience.

"Then they switched the song to an Arab peace song with a fun echoing chorus. Holding hands, dancing, laughing and smiling with these girls from such different places was a surreal experience that I will not forget."

After camp, Henkin was part of a delegation that made "village visits" in Beit Sahur and Bethlehem in the West Bank, holding ultimate sports clinics for youth who are part of Ultimate Peace's year-round program, and recruiting new participants.

Now visiting her family in Israel, Henkin will once again play in the Junior World Tournament in August (in Ireland this year); however, she'll be a member of the elite U.S. team. Only the top 20 players in the country are selected after rigorous tryouts.

After returning home, Hen­kin will prepare for her freshman year at the University of Michigan, whose women's ultimate team is, not coincidentally, ranked fourth in the country.

For Henkin, Ultimate Peace joins two major themes of her life. "My Israeli background already connected me to Israel, but I'm so glad I've been able to serve Israel in this way.

"Now I have more than my relatives there. I have my own ultimate friends and community in Israel."

For information on Ultimate Peace, go to: www.ultimatepeace.org. To view a vid­eo on the camp, go to: www.youtube.com and type Ultimate Peace Promo.

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