A Cultural Exchange Program That Leads to Peace, through the AIFL
Sometimes change happens through clash and clamor. Other times it is heard through the quiet footsteps one takes while on a journey. There is change happening both in Israel and the United States through the efforts of the America-Israel Friendship League.
The AIFL was founded in 1971 by noted political leaders such as Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Senators Henry “Scoop” Jackson and Nelson Rockefeller and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, among others. AIFL was formed to honor the historic alliance and shared common values between the U.S. and Israel. The League was established to promote strong and enduring friendships extending beyond the political world to our nations’ citizens.
As part of AIFL’s mission, it has established a U.S.–Israel Citizenship Through Sports Exchange, which sponsors cultural exchanges between U.S. and Israeli high school and college students. Here people can learn from each other, make observations and learn to build a bond that grows.
AIFL has formed a partnership with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the New York City Sports Commission to act as sponsors and hosts for the visiting students.
Two Israeli students, Roi Sagi, 31, and Felix Shaoihat, 25, recently attended the NCAA student leadership conference held in Orlando, FL. After their visit in Florida, they flew to New York City and got a guided tour of the city from high atop the McGraw Hill Building by Dr. Charlotte Frank, a Senior VP, at McGraw Hill.
Both students told of having to do military service before their higher education started. So, the age of a typical college student in Israel is 24-27 years old. And, serving in the military is an “education of life” experience that helps shape and define the young adult.
Shaoihat spoke of his experience being in the army with solemnity and said “it give him a new perspective” and “helped him think more clearly.” Sagi, now a lawyer and grad student at Technion University, was the commander of a local military prison where inmates committed serious crimes. When students finish their military obligation, they are ready to hit the books, get a focus, and start their careers.
Shaoihat joked that he saw some athletes down in Florida who looked like “walking refrigerators.” AIFL hopes that these exchanges have a positive effect. “It’s all about education; it’s all about sharing ideas, and developing and exploring the common values between our two peoples,” said William Behrer III, CEO of AIFL.
Sagi reported that upon his return he went to his fellow students in Israel and that a committee was empowered to influence student-athletic life on campuses.
Sagi notes that change started recently and Israelis are looking at what role they want college sports to play on campus. Sagi played basketball when he was a student and a knee injury ended his playing career. But he learned to coach and has stayed involved in sports since then. Shaoihat attends Tel Aviv University with a double major in political science and history. He plays soccer, a widely popular sport in his country.
Shaoihat related an experience of two Jordanian students who were escorted by the former General in the Israel – Jordan conflict in 1992. They went to a Conference in Israel and within 24 hours, were talking about sports, and acted like they were good friends. “You talk to the other person through sports,” Shaoihat says. “You don’t see ethnicity. You don’t see if it’s a Russian, Jew, or Christian. There are no boundaries, no rules.” The guards and defenses have been broken down through the universal language of sports.
U.S. college students are slated to visit Israel next year. Dr. Cedric Dempsey, a past President of the NCAA, is scheduled to go, as well as Dr. Bernard Franklin, a Senior VP in the NCAA.
Israeli high school students have visited New York City and some got coaching tips on soccer with Martin Jacobson, coach of Martin L. King H.S., one of the city’s top soccer programs.
Andrew Gould, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Sports Commission, spoke about the shared values between “our country and Israel that make it appropriate for New York City to be involved with the AIFL.” #