Israel Tennis and Education Center dedicates garden to memory of tennis star IDF officer killed in Gaza

At opening event, Maj. David Shakuri remembered as a gifted tennis player who gave up a shot at going pro to serve in the military; he was killed while leading an elite engineering unit as it scanned Hamas tunnels in Gaza

A therapeutic community garden in memory of Israel Defense Forces Maj. David Shakuri, an avid tennis player who was killed in February by sniper fire in Gaza, was dedicated by the Israel Tennis and Education Center-Jerusalem (ITECJ) in a ceremony on Friday.

His wife, Daphna, who initiated the project, said tennis had been her husband’s “entire world” before he enlisted and she wanted to do something meaningful to honor his legacy to the tennis world. He had envisioned training their young daughter Yahli when she was old enough, she said.

The garden was created by the ITECJ in cooperation with the online freelance platform Fiverr; the Venatata nonprofit, which plants community and therapeutic gardens; and Hanoch Daum, an Israeli media personality who also trains regularly at the center. It is meant to be a place for people to relax and take a step back from their athletic pursuits by engaging in the ancient Japanese practice of “Shinrin-yoku” — or “Forest Bathing” — which involves immersion in a green, plant-filled environment to slow down and awaken the senses to be present in the moment fostering a deeper connection with nature and memories, said Dorielle Rimmer, vice president of Venatata who helped design the garden.

“Everyone who knew David Shakuri recognized that one of his most distinctive traits, which still accompanies his beloved memory today, was his motto to ‘do everything with a smile,’” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion at the dedication. “In this moment, David is surely looking down on us and smiling, because there is no more fitting tribute that reflects David’s spirit so well than this tennis center. David was born and raised in a family deeply rooted in Jerusalem, and our city became an inseparable part of his identity. Today, Jerusalem pays tribute to his bravery, honors his memory, and celebrates his dedication. The garden we are dedicating in his name, in a place that felt like a second home to him, will serve as a living and tangible reminder of him — and his memory will always stay with us.”

The garden includes a memorial to Shakuri with his tennis racquet enshrined behind a glass case with a plaque telling his story. Shakuri was killed while commanding a battalion unit and a team from Yahalom, a special unit of the Combat Engineering Corps, while scanning the Hamas command tunnels beneath an UNRWA school in Gaza. Shakuri’s unit, along with another team, located Hamas’ strategic tunnel, which served as a command and intelligence center, complete with computer servers.

Shakuri, 30, lived in the nearby Talpiot Jerusalem neighborhood and grew up at the Tennis and Education Center-Jerusalem, starting to play at age 6. He was a dedicated and talented player, consistently ranked among the top in the country. At draft age, he decided to join the military rather than pursue tennis but nevertheless managed to find time to play tennis with friends whenever possible, playing for the last time two weeks before his death.  

As of Tuesday, a total of 674 Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been killed and some 4,000 injured since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, according to the military.

“David was a competitive player with a deep passion for the world of tennis. Since he first arrived at the Israel Tennis and Education Centers-Jerusalem, he felt at home and spent most of his time on the courts. After hearing of his death in battle, it became clear to us that we would do something special in his memory. The idea of a memorial garden arose from the desire to bring everyone together, creating a place of joy and reflection within the center,” said Dani Mizrahi, manager of the ITECJ.

Eyal Taoz, CEO of the Israel Tennis and Education Centers, noted that the ITEC was created after the Yom Kippur War — another time of turmoil for Israel — when its founders in the United States, South Africa and England decided to take tennis, which has the stereotype of being an “elitist, inaccessible white sport and sport of the rich,” to Israel’s periphery and less advantaged neighborhoods, establishing the first center in Ramat HaSharon. Children from lower socioeconomic areas in Tel Aviv and the other surrounding communities began coming to the tennis center and for the first five years received training and equipment for free, he said.

The tennis centers later expanded to periphery cities including Ofakim, Tiberias, Kiryat Shemona, Beersheva and Dimona, he added.

Through the years they leveraged their centers throughout the country to create programs for abused girls, wheelchair-bound children, children with motor disabilities and children on the autism spectrum, he said, along the way instilling in them the principles and ethics of tennis including sportsmanship, perseverance and social excellence.

As fighting in Gaza continues, the centers have also made their facilities available to some eight injured soldiers, some in wheelchairs, who come to practice tennis during their rehabilitation process in collaboration with their rehabilitation professionals at Beit HaLochem (Warrior’s House), the IDF Disabled Soldiers Organization and Sheba Medical Center, said Taoz.

The garden dedication event included a friendly celebrity tournament with Israel Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman, who also trains at the center and supported the initiative; Daum; mentalist Lior Suchard; actor Guri Alfi; and Israel top tennis players’ Yoni Erlich and Andy Ram — the latter of whom Shakuri played against as a bar mitzvah present from his mother some 18 years ago.

“David Shakuri will be deeply missed by his family, his fellow soldiers, friends, and all of us who saw him on the tennis court, witnessing his passion for the game,” said Daum. We will always remember David’s courage and endeavor to honor his memory with the utmost respect.”