Yoni Cohen sits down with Amnon “The King” Nissim, owner of Israel’s only museum dedicated to the unofficial national sport.
Tucked away in an old apartment in Tel Aviv’s picturesque Neve Tzedek neighborhood lies one of Israel’s more offbeat museums. The apartment belongs to 72-year-old Amnon Nissim, and the museum is dedicated to Israel’s unofficial national sport of matkot. Amnon, who has been playing the paddle ball game since the age of six, decided to turn his home into a mecca for all things matkot after a fateful meeting fifteen years ago with Morris Zadok, a sports shop owner who is just as crazy about the game as he is. Morris was impressed with Amnon’s matkot collection, and together they decided to open what was then a “matkot palace" where people would dedicate all sorts of matkot paraphernalia. Over the years the collection has grown and the museum now contains hundreds of paddles, each with their own unique story that Amnon is more than happy to tell.
Amnon, what is about matkot that you like so much?
Matkot is a game that brings people together. When I play, I’m playing with that person, not against them. If there is a good game then both players enjoy it. It’s not like tennis where one wins and one loses.
Where is your favorite place to play matkot?
Under the hotels at Gordon beach. It’s where the best players in the country some to play. The mayor of Tel Aviv even gave us a designated area to play there. He really likes me, he calls me “The King.”
Of all the paddles in the museum, which is your favorite?
Well, most of them were presents, so it’s hard to choose. One of the best matkot players is called Shmulik Zoaretz and he made me a pair of paddles from marble for my birthday.
Who is the most famous person who has come to visit the museum?
Chaim Topol was here once. The mayor of Tel Aviv has been here and I’ve also been to his office a few times to thank him for his support.
Does your whole life revolve around matkot?
Yup! I was in the army for 24 years, and every day instead of going to eat I would play matkot at the basketball court. I’m a vegetarian so I didn’t go to eat in the dining room. Instead I would prepare a salad and eat it while I was working, and then during the breaks I would go and play matkot - every day.
61 Shabazi Street, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv. (03-5174908). Free admission. The museum is open whenever Amnon is home. Advanced booking required.