First I just want to say Happy Anniversary to my beautiful parents. They have been married for 30 years! Woah! Mom and dad, may you have more than 30 years of the same love and happiness you have shared in these past 30.
Today was the special interest day of the seminar. I had signed up to be a part of the ‘Social Justice and Tikun Olam’ track, which according to the MASA booklet entailed, “What it means to be a social activist — from theory to practice.”
We began our morning in a basketball court. This was no ordinary basketball game that we were focusing on though, but rather wheelchair basketball. We ventured to one of Hebrew Universities campuses to meet with four Israelis who play. We heard their background stories and some rules of the game. For instance, you can’t touch the wheels three times in a row without dribbling, you can tackle, and you can wheel without constant dribbling.
After watching some MASA participants play against the Israelis we heard from one of the real players.
While he was telling us his story of how he came to play in wheelchair basketball, I felt like I was sitting on the bleachers watching a live episode of Oprah.
He was once a commanding officer of a platoon team in the IDF, and before that he served in the paratroopers unit. One night he led two teams of warriors into Northern Israel Israel against terrorists. He entered a house with a dog whose job was to smell the house for a terrorist before a soldier entered. Already inside, another soldier mistook our speaker as a terrorist and shot him. He shot 34 bullets at him, and was only standing a mere three meters away. Somehow only one bullet hit his body. But that one bullet hurt his spinal chord, and since that time he has had no feelings from his stomach to his legs.
During that terrible night he lost his heartbeat for twenty-five minutes. He woke up after being in a coma for a week and said he felt like a baby. He couldn’t speak for a week; He lost 20 kilos of muscle in two days; It took him six months in a rehabilitation center to learn everything again and gain access back into his life.
Eventually improving he went to a sports center in Tel Aviv for injured IDF soldiers. It was there that he started to play wheelchair basketball. Since, the game has rehabilitated him physically, but also in his relationship with his girlfriend, in his friendships, and professionally as well. It is on the basketball court that his loved ones can see him happy and positive again, not miserable and out of it like he had been.
The speakers team (Tel Aviv) won the championship game one year (Haifa). Even though they won he was upset at the end of the game. It was the biggest game in wheelchair basketball and only 30 people were there. That evening he had a dream to rebuild a team, place them in Jerusalem, and make it to the championship. At the championship he wanted to be able to play the game at the most important stadium in Jerusalem.
Well, we are on Oprah here so obviously that dream became a reality. Two months before the championship he told his dream to his teammates and a few socio-movements. In the end Jerusalem lost — Tel Aviv won. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that this time, 3,000 people were at the game and they paid money to attend. The mayor of Jerusalem was in attendance and sports TV networks showed up. Even the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, was going to attend. But unfortunately Obama asked him to come to the states as soon as possible.
After talking some more we were able to ask him questions. One person in the crowd asked was if he still has a relationship with the man who shot him. He said that he has since forgiven the man, and although that guy isn’t physically hurt, “He is hurt in his heart.” One day the man who shot him visited our speaker at the rehabiliation center and was told that it’ll be Ok, he was forgiven, and to go live a good life.
As far as wheelchair basketball goes, our speaker said Israel has a long way. He has played in Europe, the United States, and Canada and said they are all way ahead. He also said Israel has a long way to go to make it wheelchair accessible. But at least progress is being made. He ended with a wise line of advice. “Be brave enough to do something significant enough to benefit others.”
After we left and headed back to the hostel, we listened to a woman named Diana from the Bema’aglei Tzedek (“Circles of Justice”) Organization. She started off by saying, “The mark of a true leader is someone who gives a voice to those who do not have access to leadership.” She told us to not just look at immediate needs, but to the root for the needs. Through this she discovered the handicap problem in Israel.
90% of Israel is not physically accessible for those in disabilities. Handicap children thus have to go to school with those who have brain disorders, even if they are fully mentally aware. She said how we need to open our eyes, how we often know about things but we don’t really pay attention. Part of the mission on Bema’aglei Tzedek is to help make Israel more accessible for those who are handicapped.
After listening to Diana some more we ate some lunch and then made our way to the city center of Jerusalem for some free time. It was the perfect end to quite an emotional and thought-provoking day.