For most young boys and girls, their bar and bat mitzvahs are a time to celebrate with family and friends. However, Maya Gribetz, daughter of Seth and Orit Gribetz of Englewood, decided to make hers a lot more special. Earlier this year, Maya’s school, Moriah, was visited by representatives from the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (ISCD) in Ramat Gan, Israel, and she was fascinated by the presentation. The center, which is a pioneer in the rehabilitation of people with disabilities through athletics, changes the lives of the children who participate. Maya decided to visit the center on a trip to Israel in February and got to meet some of the children there and even got to try playing wheelchair basketball. She was blown away by the center and the impact it has on the lives of so many disabled children and adults. It inspired her so much that she decided to raise money for the center through its American counterpart, the American Friends of ISCD, which is committed to providing the center with financial support. To raise funds, Maya reached out to her friends and family, asking them to contribute to her fund on the center’s website. In her message, she wrote about how amazing the work of the center was and how to help these children feel successful and accomplished, “The talented and patient staff focuses on the abilities of each athlete, and not the disabilities.” She set herself a lofty goal of $25,000, and amazingly managed to reach it. She invited friends and family to attend an ISCD wheelchair basketball exhibition to give them a taste of what ISCD does. Last week, Maya’s event took place, with dozens of friends and family in attendance.
The event was coordinated by Jennifer Flink, the national executive director of the American Friends of ISCD, who explained how the center helps these disabled children who come from a state of helplessness achieve success through sports. This feeling of accomplishment helps them lead productive and fulfilling lives and tremendously improves their confidence and morale. Boaz Kramer, the executive director of ISCD in Israel, came in from Israel with star Paralympic table tennis player Caroline Tabib and two young basketball players, 14-year-old Amit Vigoda and 19-year-old Ido Shkuri. They each introduced themselves to the crowd, made up of Maya and her parents’ family and friends, and told their story of how they got to the center and the impact it made on their lives. Boaz, who grew up in the center and went on to play wheelchair tennis in the Paralympics and studied medicine at Tel Aviv University, spoke about how sports serves as a unique method of rehabilitation and how the competitive atmosphere allows each child to feel successful. He also thanked Maya for the contribution, which would be used to buy new equipment for the children. Caroline described the impact the center had on her life as well as the lives of so many others. Like Boaz, she came to the center at a very young age and was slowly able to grow stronger, both mentally and physically. The two young basketball players each described their path to ISCD and to playing wheelchair basketball. Each unique story displayed the massive amount of growth the center brings to every child who comes through their doors. After the introductions, the representatives from the center presented Maya with a jersey from the Israeli national wheelchair basketball team to thank her for the money she raised and support she brought to ISCD.
Next came an exhibition, where the basketball players displayed their skills as well as the challenges of playing basketball on wheels. Using wheelchairs specially made for speed and ease of movement, the players demonstrated how to push their chairs to move around the court. Next came dribbling, in which the guys had to throw the ball forward and hurry to catch up to it because they could not push while holding the ball. Shooting the ball took the most practice because players had to get used to shooting with their arms and upper body strength—without being able to use their legs to generate power. However, the players managed to do so with ease, showing off their skills to the amazed audience. They finished off with an exhibition game, and while they were very talented one could see the amount of hard work needed to succeed at the sport.
After the exhibition, Maya’s friends got a chance to play ball in the wheelchairs. They quickly found out that it wasn’t as easy as the elite athletes made it seem. Things, such as moving around and shooting from the chair, took a lot of strength and the kids found it very challenging. However, they still had a lot of fun trying to score and were able to appreciate the hard work it takes to play sports while disabled.
What was amazing was the happiness these athletes displayed considering their disabilities and challenges in life. Each one of them attributed their success in life to the ISCD and praised the extraordinary impact it has on so many disabled children. It was quite an eye-opener to see how they were able to overcome greater challenges than most people will ever go through, and still become so great at what they do. The event was a massive success, and the attendees left feeling an enormous amount of admiration towards the ISCD and all the work it does. Meanwhile, Maya was able to accomplish and complete an incredible mitzvah by helping raise money for the center, making her milestone a very meaningful and memorable experience.
For more information about the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled please see http://www.afiscd.org.
By Eli Rifkind