Why I'll Be Cycling in Israel This Spring
In 1966, when I was in 7th grade, I was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter (O-S) disease, a ligament inflammation characterized by a painful bump below the knee that worsens with activity. Unknown at the time was that the condition causes no physical damage or impairment and goes away on its own in a year or two.
Back then, though, tagged with a strange, foreign-sounding disease, I and others with assorted physical limitations attended what was known as “ortho gym” in lieu of regular gym class.
Perhaps because of this experience – or maybe because I was a Jewish kid in an often overtly hostile school and sports environment – I was impressed and intrigued, at the time, by a classmate’s dad, who used a wheelchair. This charismatic, athletic man had been an original member of the Long Beach Flying Wheels, a wheelchair basketball team comprising paraplegic WWII veterans rehabilitating at a nearby Navy hospital.
In the late 1940s, the team barnstormed the nation, playing teams that had sprouted up around other rehabilitation facilities serving veterans after the war. By 1948, the newly created National Wheelchair Basketball Association was arranging games and holding tournaments around the country. Over the years, these competitions blossomed to include teams and leagues of men, women, and children in almost all corners of the world, including Israel.
Once my O-S cleared up, I rarely thought about it or wheelchair basketball – until recently, when Boaz Kramer, a medical doctor, former champion wheelchair tennis player, award-winning Paralympian, and executive director of the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled (ISCD), together with a coterie of young athletes, made a spirited and impactful visit to Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, where my daughter is a cantor. Knowing that I am always looking for a reason to travel to Israel, she introduced me to Boaz and the ISCD.
Established in 1960 near Tel Aviv, the ISCD initially focused on rehabilitating polio victims. Before long, it also was serving individuals injured during military service and in accidents, as well as those affected by cerebral palsy and other conditions. Its many sports offerings include swimming, wheelchair basketball, soccer, and table tennis, and its full array of training facilities enable athletes and teams to compete in leagues and tournaments around the world. By 2007, the ISCD was serving 80 percent of Israelis in these categories, including the largest percentage of children anywhere in the world at a center of this kind.
I recently had lunch with Boaz and two young athletes who use wheelchairs. As I heard from them firsthand, the ISDC provides a second home to some 2,500 Israelis of all ages, serving as a place in which “the unique merit of sports is utilized to strengthen body, spirit, and mind and where people with disabilities are empowered to become fully integrated members of society.” Children, in particular, gain self-esteem and confidence at ISDC, finding and honing interests and skills they never knew they possessed, including ones they may have been told were not appropriate for them to pursue.
Firmly sold on the value of the ISCD and ready to support it through the U.S.-based American Friends of ISCD, I was thrilled to learn one way to do so is to participate with others – on bikes, in wheelchairs, and other conveyances – in the organization’s 13th annual Good Wheel 2019, a 180-mile ride in northern Israel to be held from March 29 through April 4, 2019.
As a post-hip-replacement cyclist (times two), though not a long distance rider, I look forward to riding alongside others of all abilities and being together with event volunteers from all over the globe – including my wife Trish – in what the ISCD describes as a “combined effort of the participants to remove barriers and make everyone feel equal in an unforgettable and unique life experience.”
To learn more about the ISCD and its Good Wheel 2019 event, visit American Friends of Israel Sport Center for the Disabled.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), a unified initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities worldwide. The Union for Reform Judaism is proud of its Presidential Initiative on Disabilities Inclusion, an ongoing effort to ensure full inclusion and participation of people with disabilities in every area and in every aspect of Reform Jewish life. Visit the Disabilities Inclusion Learning Center to learn more.
To learn more about how Jewish values inform the Reform Jewish community’s advocacy and inclusion efforts, visit the Religious Action Center’s Jewish Values and Disability Rights page.