Men’s tennis player Aviv Ben Shabat goes for a serve on the court. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis.
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He lived in Tel Aviv, Israel, where three years of mandatory military service were required from ages 18 to 21.
“That’s how everyone remembers my name,” he said. “Aviv from Tel Aviv.”
Ben Shabat grew up with tennis all around him, for his three brothers and one sister all played as well.
Since Ben Shabat was an athlete and had accumulated some Association of Tennis Professionals points, he did not have to serve on the front lines or in combat whatsoever.
“I was supposed to be a gym teacher,” he said. “I had an interview with the officer for the job, but he didn’t like me. He thought I was showing off. Then they sent me to the kitchen.”
Ben Shabat served his three years working six hours a day in the kitchen. He served and made food and cleaned, along with other kitchen responsibilities.
“Basically, we were like special athletes,” he said. “You get ‘easier’ service, but it wasn’t easy. Tennis definitely saved my life. In my hometown it was very easy to go the wrong way, if you know what I mean. I’d be walking to practice and there’d be kids 13 or 14 [years old] smoking hookah, smoking cigarettes.”
On top of working, Ben Shabat also practiced tennis to maintain his skills and privileges in the military.
“Basically the idea of coming here got me through it,” he said. “Basically I was counting days. One, two, three…365 days. I was thinking the day I got out of the army I was going to the United States.”
In January 2016, he started school at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he played tennis for the semester. However, at the end of the semester, his coach informed him of a decrease in scholarship money.
Ben Shabat officially left in July 2016. One month later, he stepped onto Butler’s campus for the first time.
“I didn’t know where is Butler,” he said. “I didn’t know where is Indianapolis. I didn’t know where is Indiana. I didn’t know what is Butler. I didn’t know what it was. Butler? Like, usually it is university of something. It’s not like something Butler. Like, who is Butler?”
Ben Shabat was given the opportunity to play tennis at Butler Parker Ross ’06, men’s tennis head coach. Ben Shabat was pleased with the scholarship offer and accepted.
Sophomore teammate Spencer Lang has only known Ben Shabat since the beginning of the school year, but he enjoys his presence on the team.
“My favorite thing is definitely his humor,” he said. “He always speaks his mind.”
Once in America, Ben Shabat had to adapt to the culture around him, including the little things.
“The sense of humor I didn’t get at all,” he said. “Americans like to laugh at the same joke a lot of times. Like a lot of times. Like, you would laugh about something now, you will say it again another two hours, and then you’re going to tell it to everyone you talk to. In Israel, it’s like something was funny, OK it was funny. It’s over. You’re not going to repeat it ten times.”
Ben Shabat scored his first notable victory over Purdue’s Benjamin Ugarte, 7-5, 6-7, 7-5, at the Purdue Fall Invitational in September.
“For me personally, my goal is to get ranked nationally,” he said.
For Ben Shabat, a life without tennis is no life at all, especially in his upbringing.