We Israelis find ourselves in perhaps the most cataclysmic state of affairs in our brief history. Beset with sworn enemies who are determined to destroy us, our young men and women have no recourse but to take up arms and watch over our troubled country. Sadly, many have fallen in battle and many more have paid an awful price. Roughly over 10% of our population – some 650,000 people – suffer from physical disabilities. These horrifying numbers have always attested to three main factors: wars, road accidents and crippling maladies from birth. Adding to our continuous tragedy, over the last four years terrorism has dramatically increased our already swollen ranks of disabled Israelis.
In sharp contrast to this ghastly picture, our national team of disabled athletes – of which some 70% consists of either war wounded or terror victims – has brought a bright ray of hope, both to our beleaguered state and to those among its faithful countrymen who have paid the horrific price. The story of our physically challenged sports heroes who only recently returned triumphantly from the Paralympics held in Athens, Greece is both heartrending and inspiring. It is a classic tale of the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly undefeatable physical obstacles. It is a saga that needs to be told and retold, both to Israelis and to Diaspora Jews.
The Israel Sports Association for the Disabled (ISAD) stands in the front line of a strong national effort to instill hope in the hearts of our disabled citizens. In charge of fifteen sports, ISAD helps all those suffering from handicaps achieve the kinds of personal triumphs that can only be imagined in their wildest dreams. ISAD trainers and coaches have steadfastly developed the suppressed athletic abilities of scores of immobilized boys, girls, men and women, enabling them to rise above their sense of powerlessness and reach unbelievable heights. ISAD instructors teach the disabled how to use their healthy limbs, compensate for their physical disadvantages and compete in local leagues, tournaments and international games. The participation of Israeli athletes in the Paralympic Games is the pinnacle of ISAD’s ongoing achievements.
Israel’s Paralympic heritage is one of the vital characteristics of our small state, which prides itself at overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. Our disabled athletes have set a most uncommon example, both for our able-bodied Olympic athletes and all those Israelis for whom participation in sports and the competitive spirit is dear to them.
ISAD runs the following all-year-around sports in Israeli leagues and sends national teams to international competitions and Paralympic events:
Sailing – Swimming – Athletics – Basketball – Weightlifting – Shooting – Fencing – Hand Cycling – Horseback Riding – Wheelchair Tennis – Table Tennis – Archery – Volleyball – Goal Ball (for the blind) – Badminton
At different stages of their development, Israeli Paralympic athletes train at the Wingate Institute, Bet Halohem: (Organization of IDF Veterans) Spivak – The Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (under the auspices of the Ilan Organization for children with physical disabilities) and Etgarim – the Israel Outdoor Sports and Recreation Association for the Disabled.