In a world fraught with political, religious, and ethnic tension, sports is a powerful platform that brings people together. This year’s Giro d’Italia, which started in Jerusalem and was a significant event for Israel’s global reputation, is a perfect example of how sports can be harnessed as a force for unity.
In the headlines, Israel is so often associated with conflict, but the Giro d’Italia brought cyclists from around the world, including Arab competitors from the UAE and Bahrain, to Israel for the sole purpose of competing and enjoying their sport. Such events transcend politics as sports “levels the playing field” and brings us together based on our common interests and pursuits. On an even larger stage, this is also the goal of the Winter Olympics and Summer Olympics as well as the Paralympics.
Due to the unifying power of sports and my work in that sector, I am particularly honored to receive the 2018 Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Culture, Sports and Arts prize, which embodies the values of my life and work. The Daniel Centre for Rowing and Nautical Studies was established in Tel Aviv in 2002 in my son’s memory. Daniel was a “people person” who loved life, loved being a leader, and always had great presence. Rowing and friends were his world. In fact, one of the last things he said was, “I’m a rower, I’m a rower!” Daniel wanted to represent Israel in the Olympics, and initially the Daniel Rowing Centre was established for high-performance athletes and to be the home of the Olympic and Paralympic Team Israel.
The Friends of Daniel for Rowing Association (FDRA) was established in 2004 to help expand the activities of the Centre, using the discipline of rowing to enhance and transform the lives of youngsters and adults in one of the most dynamic countries in the world. We believe in striving for excellence, fostering teamwork, and embracing marginalized communities. At the Centre, we have developed tailored programs for people with disabilities using specially adapted equipment, dragon boat racing for those with breast cancer and Parkinson’s disease, and classes for the blind and for those on the low-functioning autistic spectrum. Everyone finds a class that suits them.
Our “Sea of Friends” flagship program combines sailing and nautical action together with classroom workshops to empower those of weaker backgrounds, and to better their chances of integration and prosperity in society. We believe in diversity, and we offer classes for groups working with at-risk youths who are referred to us by the Tel Aviv municipality, ultra-Orthodox groups from Bnei Brak, and Arab groups from Jaffa. All are welcome.
As the Bonei Zion prize — translated literally as “builders of Israel” — recognizes the impact of outstanding Anglo immigrants, it is my desire and ambition to further grow the positive and sustainable impact that sports has on Israeli individuals and society, by incorporating more sport-related elements into the country’s school curriculum. I am thrilled to have received the Nefesh B’Nefesh prize which has been made possible by working with the incredible staff at the Daniel Rowing Centre and the FDRA.
I know that Daniel would have been so proud of me. If he could not win an Olympic medal, then let’s help others to fly the flag for Israel in the world sports arena and at the same time make rowing accessible to all.
Linda Streit is founder of the Daniel Centre for Rowing and Nautical Studies, founder and co-chair of The Friends of Daniel for Rowing Association, and the recipient of the 2018 Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion prize in Culture, Sports and Arts.