June 11, 2024
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Measuring Success in Life Through Sports

This coming August, after a pandemic-induced postponement, many of us will engage in a glorious quadrennial ritual—watching the Summer Olympic Games! We’ll be glued to various events in Tokyo as “Olympic Fanfare” hums in the background. And chances are, while rooting for Team USA, we’ll also be ever-hopeful to witness the Israeli flag being hoisted and, please God, the playing of “Hatikvah.”

Our heartstrings will be pulled by athlete spotlight stories and we will remember that, as sweet as victory is, (Olympic) success is not just about medals—it’s about effort and heart and overcoming obstacles to reach your goals.

All those measures of success are even more evident after the Olympic flame is extinguished and the flame for the International Paralympic Games is ignited a few days later. Most of the Israeli paralympians we’ll be cheering on were trained at the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (ISCD) which actually hosted the 1968 Paralympic Games!

Just like Israel herself, the ISCD is small but mighty. Located in Tel Aviv’s suburb Ramat Gan, ISCD is a world pioneer in sport rehabilitation. Founded in 1960 during Israel’s polio outbreak, ISCD is the home away from home for more than 2,000 athletes and their families – newborns to nonagenarians, all with various physical challenges. Athletes participate in 18 different sports such as basketball, tennis, dance, fencing and table tennis—all without discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, sexual preference or ethnicity.

When you visit, (and we look forward to welcoming you as soon as possible) you’ll see quadriplegics, paraplegics, children and adults with cerebral palsy and missing limbs. You’ll also see lots of smiles! Because in addition to being the largest facility of its kind in the world, ISCD is also a unique community center run by people with disabilities. They return for decades after their own rehabilitation to serve as coaches and role-models for the next generation. They relate to the unique challenges of having a physical disability whether it resulted from a congenital condition, progressive disease, accident or, notably in Israel, terrorist act. Most importantly, the ISCD staff sees what their athletes CAN do, rather than what they cannot.

The ISCD was hit hard by the pandemic, having to shutter operations several times and consequently losing more than 40% of its annual programmatic revenue. Only 1% of its budget comes from the Israeli government. Generous donors in Israel and the U.S. provide more than half of ISCD’s operating funds.

Sports are known to build self-confidence, morale and positive self-image particularly for people with physical disabilities. The sooner children are immersed in a positive milieu, the better they fare. ISCD’s preschool was deemed an essential service during the pandemic by the Israeli government. It also proudly stands as a COVID Safe Zone, having administered two doses of the vaccine to its 1,400 staff, coaches, teachers, therapists, athletes aged 16+ and their relatives in January. Like many community-based organizations, Israel Sport Center for the Disabled is a caring family for all its members.

Naturally, as a sports center, ISCD loves winning! Over the years, its athletes have won hundreds of Paralympic, European and world championship titles. And while we love medals and trophies, the true measure of success at the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled is when our athletes go on to volunteer in the IDF, attend university, have fulfilling careers, relationships and families. In short, when our athletes with physical challenges lead productive lives and contribute all their gifts to strengthening Israel’s future, that’s when we play the “Hatikvah”!

Beth Grafman is the east coast director of American Friends of Israel Sport Center for the Disabled.


[email protected], www.afiscd.org 

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