Friendship Games – Monday Highlights

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Friendship Games – Monday Highlights
Jul 4, 2017

Eilat, Israel –  Following the opening ceremonies, Monday was the only off-day for basketball competition of the 12th annual Friendship Games.

Instead, the participants started the day at 6 a.m., and boarded two buses for a nearly four hour drive north to Jerusalem.

Games organizers made sure coaches and players prepared well; drink lots of water and dress appropriately; women could not wear shorts above the knee and had to cover their shoulders when in the sacred areas of the Holiest City in the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish religions.

The 90-minute tour included some of the world’s most historically significant sites. The city is separated into four quadrants Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian.

Even though the Friendship Games are designed to forge relationships that foster coexistence and tolerance among the participants, the teams were purposely separated by religion and language as they toured Jerusalem, strictly to ease communication for tour guides.

“We are separated because a lot of teams have different languages,” said Ukrainian Coach Andriy Ternoy, who has visited the Holy City multiple times. “If we are with everybody in the same place it’s about 60 to 70 persons and it’s not good, and it’s not safe because Jerusalem is very dangerous that’s why small groups [had] security guards,”

The Christians and Jews remained together in two groups: Lithuanian combined with Polish, and Ukrainians and Russians. The Muslim group consisted largely of Jordanians and a few Israelis.

The participants visited the Western Wall, where many Jews can be seen praying or stuffing handwritten prayers into the cracks of the structure that withstood attacks by the Romans around 70 C.E. and nearly two millennia of visitor wear-and-tear.

They also traversed Via Dolorosa, the road on which historians say Jesus carried the cross on the way to his crucifixion and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which marks where Christ was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

The Muslim group tour included the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Muslim shrine in Israel and a highlight of Jerusalem’s skyline. According to Islam it is built on sacred rock where the Prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven and where Jews believe Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.

“I enjoyed it a lot, it was a mesmerizing trip,” said Giedre Ulyte of Lithuania, who was visiting Jerusalem for the second time. “It was really exhausting because we were boiling inside because of the heat.

“I tried to dig more deeply in the places, in the history and more the atmosphere, not just watch some streets or people but feel the atmosphere of the whole Jerusalem.I think I made it.”

The Jewish and Christian group from Ukraine and Russia had a Russian-speaking guide, while Polish and Lithuanian had and English-speaking guide.

“We were trying to find ourselves in Jerusalem, it was like food for the soul,” Ulyte said of the experience. “I think that day was for [reflecting] in ourselves and now today we can also enjoy one another again.”

Following the tours of the Old City the two buses headed to the Dead Sea for lunch and a skin soothing dip.

Photo by Monica McNutt

Despite being separated, out of respect, the intention of the Friendship Games was back in full effect on the bus ride back to Eilat as the music of the region oozed from the bus’ speakers and an Arab song erupted on a bus that contained Polish, Israeli, and Jordanian participants. The songs and laughter shortly turned into unified peace as the day’s activities had gotten the best of everyone, no matter their faith or heritage.

Basketball action resumes Tuesday.

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The event’s organizers sponsored student coverage of the Friendship Games. Editorial control of the coverage and content remained with the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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