Israel’s gold standard

Our Paralympics success clearly illustrates our country's commitment to the differently abled, our ability to value each and every one of them as citizens with a real role to play

As 5772 nears its end, I find myself reflecting on the experiences that impacted me the most over the last year. Though there were many such instances, the sports fan in me continues to focus on the rare inspirational moments we all witnessed on “sports’ biggest stage”: the Summer Olympics.

We watched as Usain Bolt, aptly nicknamed the “Lightning Bolt,” dazzled the crowd by successfully defending his 100 meter and 200 meter titles, cementing his bragging rights as the world’s fastest man and becoming the first man to win six Olympic gold medals in sprinting.

We shook our heads in disbelief as swimmer Michael Phelps shocked the world by surpassing Larisa Latynina’s historic medal count (18) to become the greatest Olympian of all time, ending his storied career with 22 medals, 18 of them gold.

And then there was gymnast Aly Raisman, the darling of the global Jewish community. Raisman earned critical acclaim and her spot in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame after leading the US gymnastics team to a gold medal win in the all around team competition and securing two individual medals – a bronze on the balance beam and a gold for her flawless floor exercise routine performed to the tune of “Hava Nagila.”

Though Israel’s Olympic team returned home empty-handed, some of our nation’s proudest moments, and many of my most profound moments of inspiration, did come in shades of Israeli gold, silver and bronze.

Now, just days after the closing ceremony of the Paralympics in London, I am simply in awe of Israel’s talent-laden Paralympics team.

Swimmer Itzhak Mamistvalov, who only has control of his right arm due to cerebral palsy, won a bronze medal. Fellow swimmer, Inbal Pezaro, who is paralyzed from the waist down, earned three bronze medals.

Noam Gershony, Israel’s wheelchair tennis superstar, upset American favorite David Wagner to grab Israel’s first Olympic gold medal since 2004.

In the end, Israel accumulated eight Paralympics medals – one gold, two silver, and five bronze.

Medalists Noam Gershony (gold, tennis) and Inbal Pezaro (bronze, swimming) with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the Israeli Paralympic team at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Medalists Noam Gershony (gold, tennis) and Inbal Pezaro (bronze, swimming) with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcoming ceremony for the Israeli Paralympic team at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Although our Paralympians’ back-stories vary greatly – Mamistvalov and Pezaro have suffered from physical disabilities most of their lives, while Gershony was critically wounded in a helicopter accident during the Second Lebanon War – there is a common thread to their narratives. In every case, these athletes trained for glory in a genuinely warm and supportive environment – Israel.

This is not an attempt to shift the focus away from our sub-par performance at the Olympics to spotlight our only successful athletic outing of the summer. Rather, it is an opportunity to bring an important moral victory of sorts for Israel to light.

Like so many other differently abled Israeli citizens, Mamistvalov, Pezaro, Gershony, and the rest of the Israeli Paralympics team, were given the care and attention they needed to live a fulfilling life. For them, that fulfillment included the necessary guidance and the opportunity to compete at the highest level possible. Their smiling faces and shiny new medals are proof positive that their Israeli support system was on its game.

Historically, Israel has seen a great deal of success at the Paralympics. In total, Israel has won 341 medals in the Games, 114 of them gold. To me, this clearly illustrates our country’s commitment to the differently abled, our ability to look beyond their shortcomings and value each and every one of them as citizens with a real role to play in our society.

Other examples of Israel’s commitment to the disabled are plentiful. As the government generously pours funds into residential and treatment centers for the disabled, Israeli corporations in the fields of technology, defense and telecommunications are developing projects to support the population.

Public discourse on equal access for the disabled has set in motion an effort by the management of thousands of eateries, malls, schools, office buildings and theaters to ensure that their facilities are accessible to one and all.

Everywhere you look, someone is making our disabled citizens a priority and contributing significant amounts of time, energy and money to the cause.

Indeed, we are truly fortunate to not only live among heroes of varied abilities, but to walk among angels, remarkable human beings who are willing to do just about anything to help the disabled reach their fullest potentials.

For me, Israel’s gold standard of care for men, women and children of all abilities is a source of great inspiration and significant pride.

As I look toward 5773, I wish for continued Israeli successes in every discipline, I pray that we will all be written into the “Book of Life,” and I hope that our shining example can stimulate real social change that will benefit differently abled individuals around the world.

About the Author
Dov Hirth is the Coordinator of Marketing, Development and Special Projects for ALEH (, Israel’s network of care for individuals with severe complex disabilities and a global voice for disability inclusion and accessibility.