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Golf, Aikido and peacemaking become a golden pursuit

By Masada Siegel
Special to The Chronicle

November 27th, 2009

Jamie Leno Zimron does a hip throw with a Palestinian boy at a “Martial Arts for Peace” Muslim karate school in the Galilee.

Jamie Leno Zimron does a hip throw with a Palestinian boy at a “Martial Arts for Peace” Muslim karate school in the Galilee.

This summer, two of Jamie Leno Zimron’s passions — Israel and golf — came together. The result was two gold medals.

The Milwaukee native played on Israel’s golf team in the 18th Maccabiah Games.

“It was so exciting to play in Israel,” Zimron, 55, said during a recent telephone interview.

“It was my first time participating and I shot a 74-69-73 to lead the Israeli ladies masters’ team to victory. I won an individual gold medal and as a team we also won gold. I like to take every opportunity to share who I am, what I do and the message of peace and harmony with Israelis every chance I get.

That commitment to athleticism, Israel and peace started early in Zimron’s life.

As a teenager, Zimron — then named Margie Leno — was an accomplished golfer. “I became the youngest winner of the Wisconsin State Junior Golf Championship when I just turned 13. Then I won when I was 14, 15, 16 and 17. I played nationally and was ranked in the top ten national junior golfers in America,” she said.

Passionate about Israel, she graduated early from Nicolet High School and went to live and study Hebrew on a kibbutz for six months.

She returned to the United States and began her college studies at Stanford University, playing golf on the university team. But her love for Israel interrupted her college career too.

Responding to the crisis in Israel after the Yom Kippur war, she returned to the Jewish state and spent a year volunteering on moshav farms. Many of the male farmers were either on duty or had been killed so people were needed to tend to the land, she explained.

Upon returning to college, her best friend introduced her to the martial art of Aikido, which is known as the “martial art of peace.” Zimron was immediately hooked and started training five days a week.

She describes Aikido as “the martial art that tries to end fighting. It is a non-violent way to deal with conflict. It is a peaceful power.” Zimron explained, “The flowing movements of Aikido reminded me of golf.”

She went on to complete a master’s degree in clinical psychology and chose to blend the disciplines of fitness with psychology, creating a methodology for athletes to accomplish peak performance.

She merged the principles of mind and body, creating Centered Golfing, a company that teaches people how to improve their game through using their mind as well as improving their physical skills.

 
Peacemaking

It was Aikido that led her to peacemaking. A fifth degree black belt, she spent time in 1987 in the former Soviet Union and was one of the first martial artists to work alongside her Russian counterparts. She saw positive results of Aikido as a form of citizen diplomacy between the Americans and the Russians.

This concept would prove pivotal in her future because she saw firsthand how training together on the mat created constructive relationships between the Americans and Russians. It made her wonder about Palestinians and Jews.

After making aliyah in 1994, Zimron met many of the Soviet Jews she had met years earlier, who had also immigrated to Israel, and found her spending time with them in the studio in Israel.

She lived in Israel for two years before moving back to the U.S. but has stayed committed and connected to the Jewish state.

Living in California, she co-founded the non-profit Middle East Aikido Peace Project.

“Our goal is to bring Arabs and Jews together through training on the mat. Aikido is very new and many Palestinians are interested in non-violent conflict resolution. It is a tool to bring people together and to practice this martial art,” she said.

The Middle Aikido Peace Project also works with Palestinians in East Jerusalem and has started teaching the martial art in an orphanage in Bethlehem with young orphans.

Zimron said, “I am hopeful. I do believe the majority of people, both Israelis and Palestinians, want to live in peace and it is possible.

“We are using Aikido as a tool for peace education, to develop peaceful leaders. Youth training is very constructive. We believe in non-violent conflict resolution. The use of peaceful power lends itself to harmonious relationships.”

Even the experience of training together is constructive, Zimron said. “Friendships are formed, stereotypes broken down, fears dispelled, and it lends itself to new possibilities for peaceful coexistence.”

Zimron still maintains dual citizenship. “I make regular trips to Israel and hope to work it out to live part time in Israel. There is not a moment I don’t miss being in Israel.”

She makes a living teaching golf, martial arts and conducting individual coaching sessions. She also travels throughout the world promoting peace through Aikido and playing in golf tournaments. 

But she has not forgotten her Milwaukee roots. “Milwaukee gave me a wonderful foundation; good values, life long friendships and great childhood experiences. These have carried me though all my far flung adventures and works in life.”

Masada Siegel lives in Scottsdale. She can be reached at Fungirlcorrespondent@gmail.com