This week I learned about true courage…the bravery to go on after tragedy has struck; the determination to begin anew; the resolve to participate in what life has to offer, despite the challenges; the chutzpah that is necessary to drive social change by transforming attitudes and beliefs. My teachers were men and women who grew to accept and overcome physical, cognitive, or emotional hardships.
As part of my work with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, I was in Israel with a group of volunteers to explore and understand initiatives that have been undertaken by various not-for-profit programs that focus on helping people with Special Needs. Some of them include:
- Green Hands – An organization that employs people with Special Needs to turn recycled newspapers, signs, and billboards into many types of products (i.e. bags, journal covers, wallets, etc.) – helping the environment while enabling people with physical and mental difficulties to join the work force.
- Center for Independent Living (CIL) – A person-centered service enabling people with disabilities to participate in what life has to offer; from movies to lectures, and even sailing.
- Israel Sports Center for the Disabled – A unique Center that fosters a love and participation in sports for children and adults who struggle with disabilities incurred from birth, illnesses, accidents, or various traumas. Some participants have even gone on to become Paralympic athletes!
- Lotem – A non-profit that makes nature (i.e. hiking and climbing) and the outdoor environment accessible to people with various challenges.
While the work and dedication of these programs to their causes certainly are important and admirable, it is the people – the individuals who have managed to cope with various adversities – and their stories that were most impactful. They touched my heart — and mind — in ways I previously hadn’t imagined.
We were guided by Raz, who was left paralyzed from the neck down at a young age as a result of a car accident, who uses his motorized wheelchair to lead groups on hikes. (He’ll be participating in the upcoming Jerusalem marathon!)
We met Yuval who lost both arms in combat, yet now is a peer counselor who inspires and helps others cope with living with physical challenges. (I stared in amazement as he tied his shoe with his two prosthetic arms!)
We were moved by twenty-year-old Asael’s story about how he lost his leg as a result of a terroristic attack where the assailant entered his home and killed his mother and three of his brothers. (He’s now a basketball coach for those in wheelchairs and is a Paralympic swimmer.)
We were impressed with Boaz Kramer, wheelchair-bound as a result of partial paralysis incurred at birth, who is an award-winning wheelchair tennis player and a driving force behind helping others realize their dreams.
We were taken by the backgrounds of teen-aged Noam who now designs and sells cool jean shorts and Yonatan who now writes and plays music; both were “saved” by the love, care, and support they receive from a special therapy programs for at-risk girls and boys.
Their stories – their accomplishments – inspire. They teach. They also humble. My kids, my family, and my friends – while fortunate to not suffer from these obstacles – do not sufficiently recognize how much they have for which to be grateful.
For a few days in time, I looked over my hotel room balcony and saw gorgeous streaks of pink-orange across the horizon. The sun set over the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Tel Aviv – a place I consider to be home. I found myself here again for the second time in two months for numerous business reasons, with little to no time for family visits or self indulgences. But, this time I was changed. I now see the world – and the many special people in it – through very different colored glasses.