Freshman Libi Mesh finds balance at Syracuse after living in Israel and serving in military

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on April 20, 2016 at 12:02 am Contact Tomer: | @tomer_langer Libi Mesh walked onto the bus with all the other draftees. As they found their seats they were told to sit with their legs together, their hands on their lap and remain silent for the entire ride.The bus shuttled the draftees to basic training for the Israel Defense Forces. Every Israeli citizen must serve in IDF — women for two years, men for three — when they turn 18. And while some were nervous, Mesh was not. Her older brother had been a paratrooper, and she was excited to contribute herself.“Oh, this is going to be so cool,” Mesh remembered thinking as the bus pulled away.Her wakeup call came at 4 a.m. The draftees went to sleep at 11 p.m. only to be dressed five hours later. On those same nights, she and other recruits would fall asleep during classes as their commander warned them that they’d run extra if they dozed off.But the biggest difficulty for Mesh, who placed second in the Israeli under-18 championships in tennis, was being forced to scale back on the sport she loved. After usually practicing twice a day, four to five times a week, Mesh only had time to practice once a day.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAfter two years of mandatory service, Mesh has traded in her olive and dark blue uniforms for an orange and blue one. She enrolled at Syracuse this past fall and as a 21-year-old freshman has achieved her dream of playing collegiate tennis in the United States.“I’m getting a really good education in a very good school, I play tournaments in a very competitive level, I practice in a really high level with really good girls,” Mesh said. “I basically enjoy everything in one place.”Most of all, Mesh has thrived at Syracuse (13-7, 7-7 Atlantic Coast), which begins the ACC tournament on Thursday. Her childhood was marred by the constant struggle of having to put her other endeavors on the backburner — whether it was the military, her studies or her friendships — in order to advance her tennis career. But after deciding to live over 5,000 miles away from home and to join a tennis team for the first time in her life, she’s found the stability.Mesh started off as a ballet dancer. When she was 8, her parents got a flier advertising the Haifa branch of the Israel Tennis Centers. After about two months of playing, the manager and coach of the tennis center told Mesh’s parents that she was gifted and that it was worth it to invest in her tennis career.So they did. And Mesh’s dedication to tennis grew. But as she improved and started competing in more tournaments, she was also being forced to make hectic arrangements and sacrifices with other parts of her life.There was a tournament in Ashkelon, about 100 miles away from Haifa, the day of Mesh’s math final as a 16 year old. She won her afternoon game, drove back to Haifa to spend the night, woke up and took her exam before racing back down to Ashkelon to make it in time for the next game.“It’s very hard. To also have to integrate school, and she was at a very good school, and all the competitions,” Alex Mesh, her father, said. “For us it was also very hard, it’s (a lot of) effort.”Mesh put effort into her studies, but tennis came first and constantly traveling all over the country, and the world, for tournaments also made it harder for her social life. She only attended about 50 percent of her classes, Alex said. While her classmates hung out outside of school, Mesh worked on her trade.While her classmates didn’t understand her routine, her friends from the tennis center did. There, Mesh met Lee Levy, who was one year older than her. Levy was the best player at the center who would go on to become the best player in the country. Mesh looked up to Levy and was determined to match her level.  The two bonded playing tennis and traveling to different tournaments together, cheering each other on along the way.Courtesy of Syracuse Athleticscenter_img “I was serving on the court and I saw her and she came onto the court and the coach was like, ‘Look at her, she’s the next Lee Levy,’” Levy said. “It was fun.”Mesh used Levy’s path as a blueprint. Her first thought was to become a fighter in the military, but it would have meant giving up tennis completely. So she joined the navy, just like Levy.Two years ago Levy made the trek to the U.S., joining the tennis team at Rutgers. When Mesh wasn’t practicing or doing navy work, she was picking Levy’s brain, asking her what she should do to prepare for her trip to America. She told Mesh to speak as much English as possible, watch TV without subtitles and switch her phone to English.Neither Levy nor Mesh had ever been part of an actual tennis team before, as they only competed as individuals in tournaments, and they figured it would take some time to get used to it. But that’s where their experiences diverged.Levy was one of only two international players on a Rutgers team that returned most of its core. Mesh was on a Syracuse team that only returned three players and brought in five new international players, including herself.“It helps because they understand the struggle of being foreign and coming here, studying in a different language and everything,” Mesh said of her SU teammates. “They know what I’m going through, I know what they’re going through, so we help each other.”Mesh had always put her tennis career first, no matter what other areas she had to sacrifice. But in an individualistic sport, it’s the team she joined that’s made her comfortable halfway across the globe.Although Mesh has gotten very comfortable in her short time at Syracuse, there’s still a part of her that longs for those connections from home. Her room holds a green pillow, scarf and hat, all bearing the logo of Maccabi Haifa, her favorite soccer team. Her dad sends her videos from games he attends. She could sit for hours and listen to Israeli music from her favorite artists, like Shlomo Artzi and Ivri Lider.A few weeks ago she asked her parents to send her a package filled with Israeli snacks. At first the package was sent back because Mesh was away when it was delivered and didn’t pick it up on time, but eventually the package found its way back to her. It was filled with her favorites like: Bamba, a peanut butter flavored snack with the shape and texture of a smaller Cheetos puff; Klik, little white and milk chocolate balls; and Kariot, which translates to “pillows,” which are little pillow shaped cereal pieces filled with nougat. There’s a similar cereal sold in the U.S. called Krave.“But it’s not the same!” Mesh said.“I was so happy, it’s been awhile since I was at home. Those little things make you think about home.”But as of now, Syracuse is her home. Had you asked Mesh what her post-college plans were last semester, she would have said she was definitely going back to Israel. As her freshman year wraps up, she’s not as sure, but she feels like if she wanted to live in America permanently, she could.“Ask me (again) next semester,” she said.In Israel, Mesh honed her tennis skills and went through rigorous IDF trainings that prepared her for this voyage. She carries everything she learned from those experiences with her.But in Syracuse she no longer struggles to balance the sport she loves with her personal self-growth. In Syracuse, she’s managed to finally find the balance in her life.“I get the best of both worlds, I guess,” she said with a smile. Commentslast_img