SquashBond: Bridging Religious and Cultural Differences Through Sport

Many issues and conflicts currently happening in the world today are rooted in intolerance and prejudice arising from differences in religion and culture. When Sport at the Service of Humanity was launched three years ago, one of the areas that we hoped to address was how we can use the power of Sport to serve as a bridge to promote tolerance, respect and understanding.

As we expand on the idea of “Bridging Religious and Cultural Differences through Sport” – we are inspired by the work of SquashBond – an organization based in Israel that exemplifies the ability of sport to unite people of different faiths and cultures to find common ground.

SquashBond – Unifying Youth in Sport

Established in 2012, in a small town in Israel, SqashBond was born out of a desire to create a space where the youth of Israel could meet and play together.

In a country divided by religion and ethnicity, SquashBond’s road to acceptance has not been without its challenges, however, the organization’s founders persevered because they recognized the significant impact that their organization could have on the youth in their community. They understood the importance of getting children involved at a young age before they had the chance to develop prejudices and be negatively influenced by those around them.

“The human mind is accustomed to working in the form of categorization and generalizations. Our perception of “the other group” is influenced by what we hear from the environment and the media. In Israel, in particular, there is almost a complete separation between the groups. The fact is that usually they live their lives separately and speak a different language. This situation is also heavily influenced by the media, which provides information that is causing more and more tension between the different sectors. The community loses the ability to have an opinion based on personal interaction and more likely base their thoughts on general information which is usually very negative, scary, and creates tension.

Having a common goal and growing up together in a positive atmosphere that emphasizes the development of the individual and the group at the same time, despite the differences in background and culture, builds personal relationships between people who understand that the “other” actually is very similar “to me”, his aspirations and rights are very similar to mine and we have a lot in common.”
–NITZAN MOREE, Co-founder and Program Director, SquashBond

As the popularity and acceptance of SquashBond has grown, so too has its influence. Beginning in 2014, the program was expanded to include a broader set of off-court enrichment activities. SquashBond began teaching Arabic, Hebrew and English language courses to its members to help foster communication between coaches and players. Didactic sessions were added to directly coach children in the skills for both on and off court co- operation.

SquashBond also deepened its connections to the broader Israeli squash network and participants began playing in both local and national tournaments. For the first time ever, Jewish and Arab youth were brought together through squash.

“Squash is a unique sport that does not have a lot of awareness in the Arab community in Israel. As parents, we have an amazing experience resulting from the activities of the program that goes beyond the sport. It is an activity that empowers each child and promotes the acceptance of “the other”. It shows our children that one can learn from someone else even if he or she comes from a different background, culture, religion, values and customs – there is no right or wrong.

If one knows how to accept the other, he/she has more self-confidence and less fear and thus accepts himself in a better way and vice versa.”
–HAIFA FADILA, Parent of an Arab SquashBond Athlete

SquashBond was founded on the belief that through squash athletes could be united through a common bond connecting them not just with the sport, but also with the soul. They understood that through a shared love of sport, they could bring together the youth in their community in a way that would overcome differences in language and religious beliefs, breaking down barriers and unifying them around a common passion.

“SquashBond, for us, is a warm home for a wonderful sport and much more. This is the third year that our son, Bar, has participated happily in the group, and perhaps this is a wonderful opportunity to thank the dear team for doing sacred work in combination with sports and social activities. I cannot describe my feelings in words, but I will try anyway.

The weekly meetings with friends from the neighbouring city of Tira is a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know our neighbours closely, to hear their language, to know their way of life and to understand how similar we are and at the same time our differences.

The SquashBond Group is where we give our children the opportunity and desire to get to know each other closely, without prejudices, and without local politics interfering with the formation of mutual and genuine friendship between people who share the same physical space and who have a genuine and courageous desire for peace.

Beyond the significant contribution to our children, squash has contributed to us, as parents, quite a bit. Parents actively participate as part of the group – we are in constant contact with each other, celebrating holidays of different religions. It allows us to be part of them and them to be part of us. Everything takes place with generosity and true love.

Joint encounters strengthen the relationship and creates a true sense of one big family. It is a great honour and a great privilege to be part of such a wonderful family.

I conclude with the thought that peace has already begun, here within us, with each other, and from here the message will come forth, with great power.”
–ADI SULIN, Parent of a Jewish SquashBond Athlete

Since its launch, SquashBond has helped Jewish and Arab children realize that while people of other faiths may have different beliefs or speak different languages, they are really just like them. SquashBond provides a safe space for all children play, and to learn from and with each other, enabling them to overcome barriers and value each person for who they really are.

“When I first came to SquashBond it was hard because of the differences between us Arab and Jewish athletes. I didn’t know their language and we couldn’t talk a lot. But now, we are more than brothers and sisters. We respect each other SquashBond is my second family. I realized that my first idea about Jewish kids is false.”
–SHAHED BSHARA, Arab SquashBond Athlete

Through the passion of its founders and their belief in the power of sport, SquashBond has brought together children from sectors of Israeli society that often have nothing to do with each other, guiding them through the practical, trust-building steps to enable them to become genuine friends.

SquashBond’s vision is to create a new generation of Jews and Arabs who develop friendships and share life experiences at a critical young age, when their identities as individuals and as members of a group are still being formed. These shared interactions open up opportunities and possibilities for a more expansive and empathetic worldview for every child.

“It is exciting to see the social connections that are created between children. Squash is an amazing tool through which children learn to accept each other and to feel part of a group where they encourage and support each other. This is a vehicle which at the same time helps them to develop personal skills and awareness such as building self-confidence, patience and tolerance, decision- making and a better sense in their own abilities.”
–JACKIE GOLDRIDE, SquashBond’s Squash Director

Through SquashBond, Arab and Jewish Israeli youth of today develop the self-confidence, perseverance, and deep mutual understanding to become fearless, fair, and compassionate leaders of tomorrow.

“I have a great privilege to be part of a joint journey of children and youth. In this journey I lead the children in a process of changing negative attitudes, perceptions and feelings related to the places in which they are educated and from which they come. Through activities and conversations, we learn and deepen the values of tolerance, accepting “the other”, human dignity and the importance of investing in yourself and the community, while playing squash, which is everyone’s challenging and bonding hobby.

I have been part of a discussion between the children about the importance of learning the second language and the gaps between Hebrew speakers versus Arabic speakers. It was amazing to hear Arabic speaking children present persuasive arguments about the importance of learning Arabic in the Jewish sector. This is one example for a fascinating discussion between youngsters which took place in a safe environment and with respect to the different opinions.

During our weekly meetings I see how friendships between children from both sectors are formed and how they deal with and overcome the language barrier.”
–AVITAL SARID, SquashBond’s Education Coordinator

The Transformational Power of Sport

The Preamble to our Sport at the Service of Humanity Declaration of Principles states that – “Sport has the power to celebrate our common humanity, regardless of faith, race, culture, belief, gender or ability”. The success of organizations like SquashBond inspires us, and strengthens our belief in the transformational power of Sport as an effective bridge to foster cross cultural and religious understanding among people from diverse backgrounds.

SquashBond is a reminder of the ability of one person or organization to make a difference in the lives of many. We applaud all of the people and organizations like SquashBond that are harnessing Sport to make a transformational difference in their community and challenge each of you to find ways to do the same.