Leslie Stonebraker

Leslie came to Tikkun Olam after finishing her BA in Film at Middlebury College. Today she is Director of Marketing and Product Management at Culturalist.
During her time on Tikkun Olam, Leslie volunteered with Peace Players International in Jaffa, an organization that works towards Arab-Jewish coexistence at the grassroots level by organizing integrated basketball activities for children.  Leslie used her experience from 6 years prior as a high school basketball player to work with the kids.
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For The Love Of The Game

Six years is a LONG time. I don’t think I realized just how long until I got a crash course in basketball this afternoon, when an errant ball flew at my face and I only just managed to catch it. I guess I figured it would all be a bit like riding a bike . . . which in the end it kind of was.
Today I began my first solo volunteering position, with the teams of Peace Players International. I am out of shape, out of practice, and have only started learning the languages in which these lessons are taught. I am facing three straight hours of basketball practice. Oy-vey.
The first team trickles and crashes in (as only Israeli children can) late. It’s comprised of 9 and 10 year-olds, both genders, all cultures of the rainbow. The kids start laps around the court, do some cursory stretching, and start the drills. I feel pretty useless until the coach has me mirror a passing drill on the other side of the court. It all goes well until the kids get antsy, cutting in front of each other and throwing too many balls at my head at once. I get the feeling that I’m being tested . . . the giggles from the girls confirm it all. Eventually we break up to scrimmage. I’m playing it easy, passing off the ball and letting the kids have a go (this is their practice after all). Then the coach’s team steps up, and he doesn’t go all out, but he might as well, the way he’s taking three point shots.  I resolve to give him a taste of full-court-press if our teams are ever up against one another (yesh, terminology is slowly coming back to me).
The second team arrives while the first is wrapping up. 6 and 7 year-olds bat around basketballs that are bigger than their heads. One boy with a nearly-shaved head has ears that stubbornly stick out to the sides, two boys have full heads of curly locks that bounce when they run, and one girl proudly informs me that she speaks only English in school. These kids are the cutest little horrible basketball players I’ve ever seen. They run around, don’t listen to the coach, and don’t know the meaning of taking turns. At the end of practice, they gather round and stick a fist in the center, shouting “We are … Peace Players!” We have to do it several times, because kids wander off before the appropriate team-spirit can be mustered for such a strenuous cheer.
The last team is the teenagers. They waltz in like the own the world. All boys, as the girls didn’t bother to show up this time around. I can tell that one kid will be trouble from the start: he gives me a little strut and dance before practice even gets going, then sashays off for a drink of water while the rest of the team runs laps. During practice, he trash talks (I can tell, even if I don’t understand what he’s saying), argues with the coach about fouls (which he is constantly racking up), and stops playing in the middle of a drill, which just hurts his own team.
But really, the most amazing thing about all of this is that despite my rustiness on the sport, I don’t need a translator. I can just play basketball with a group of Muslims, Jews and Christians who, at this moment, care more about the score then about the politics. It’s a well worn formula, even in Hollywood, but here it is in real life, actually working, and it's given me some real hope for coexistence.
At the end of the day, I’m on such a high that I instantly send an email to Diego, who runs the athletic program at the Arab-Jewish Community Center (where Peace Players practices), and agree to his request that I run a basketball class solo for the ten year-olds of the center’s day care program. That will mean 4 hours of basketball every Wednesday . . . and I am just the insane American to take it on.