Soon, Douek had identified himself as Jewish, and the passengers had identified themselves as visitors from Israel. He mentioned that he was considering moving to Central America; they encouraged him to make Aliyah instead.
As the passengers exited the taxi, one of the passengers said, almost offhandedly, “Call me when you move to Israel, so I’ll know you made it,” and gave Douek his name.
That passenger was Eli Cohen, Vice General-Director of the Jewish Agency.
Douek, now 30, took that encounter as a sign, and made Aliyah in 2002 under the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah assistance program for single students. Six months later he fulfilled his promise, knocking on the door of Cohen’s Jerusalem office and reintroducing himself. The two have become friends; Douek called Cohen “like a father to me,” and asked him to read a blessing under the chuppah when Douek married a native Israeli and holistic healer named Tal.
Meanwhile, Douek had started teaching Tae Kwon Do to the children at his absorption center at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet – and they, in turn, helped him improve his Hebrew. He soon had certification from the Ministry of Culture and Sports to teach martial arts, and took his coaching career to local schools, community centers, and to a clinic where he helps students with physical, emotional, and learning disorders learn to concentrate and improve their coordination through the ancient art of Tae Kwon Do.
|Leonardo Duek and his bride under the chupah with Eli Cohen (director of the Jewish Agency), who is saying one of the sheva brachot.|
Soon, Douek founded the Israeli Tae Kwon Do Federation. He also leveraged the “increase in immigration of olim who have black belts,” and, together with a friend and fellow Oleh from Buenos Aires, opened the Israel Tae Kwon Do Center.
Based in Zichron Yaakov, the Center employs several Tae Kwon Do instructors, and impacts the lives of over 450 Israeli youth. The Center teaches Tae Kwon Do, Douek said, “not just as a sport, but as a way of life. The honor and respect come first, the integrity.”
“Here in Israel, the moment I made Aliyah, the doors were open to me,” Douek said. “In Argentina I had only 20 students. Here, from the first minute, I started teaching. Everyone was open to Tae Kwon Do, and to me. That was very special for me.”
The Federation recently hosted its second nation-wide competition; hundreds of Israeli children attended in uniform. Eli Cohen was among the audience.
“It was very happy for me to see Leonardo running an educational business, speaking in Hebrew, with an Israeli wife,” Cohen said. “Leonardo came to this country to give, not to take. Everything he does, he does way beyond what he is paid to do. He does it with love, love for Israel and love for the kids.”
Written by Rachel M. Sprintzer