Israel Sport Center for the Disabled

[Archived from August 28, 2009]

[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]

When Dr. Martin Mark traveled to Israel to be with his son, Daniel, as he competed in the international Maccabiah games, he extended his stay to explore more of the country. His travels took him to Ramat Gan, just outside of Tel Aviv, where he discovered the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled.

This center, he explained gives children, many of them with significant disabilities, the opportunity to participate in competitive sports. Since its establishment in the 1960’s, children are bused or brought to the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled every day.

“I saw little children with cerebral palsy, quadriplegics and paraplegics, and quite a few who were missing arms and legs” – evidence of the hostilities in the region, Dr. Mark said, “but I also saw smiles.”

Every child works one-on-one with his or her own mentor, he continued. They play competitive wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, table tennis and more. “I watched them in the swimming pool, working one-on-one,” he said, “and the thing that struck me most was the building of self esteem.”

The staff helps the participants set goals and works with them to achieve them. “One child set a goal to become tennis champion of the world,” Dr. Mark said. Despite their disabilities, at the Israel Sport Center these young people really do things. “It’s a phenomenal experience.”

In fact, Dr. Mark said a child from Chicago spent some time at the center because his family “couldn’t find the same kind of thing in America.”

The center currently serves more than 2,500 disabled individuals, mostly children and youth, and since its inception, the Center claims, “nearly 20,000 disabled, of all races and religions, have passed through the Center since its foundation, becoming integral and productive member of society.”

Jacob Ben Ari is a prime example of the good the Center can accomplish. He was a participant in the Center’s program in the 1960’s. He left for a while, but today, he has returned and serves as its director.

Dr. Mark met Ben Ari there. He also met David Weissman, a Floridian, whom he described as “the champion for this place.” Weissman was also in charge of the Maccabiah Games softball teams. Together, they make the Israel Sport Center the success that it is.

While Chupat Holim, Israel’s national health fund, pays for the medication participants need while they are at the Center, 99 percent of its funding is private.

Dr. Mark said plans are being made to bring some of the children to the United States. He hopes to be able to bring them to Louisville and build a bond between Louisville and the Israel Sport Center.

Dr. Mark also spent part of his time in the Western Galilee, Louisville’s Partnership with Israel region. In Nahariya, he spent some time at Western Galilee Hospital. He toured the facility with Judith Jochnowitz, WGH’s international liaison, and then spent the afternoon with the Division of Gastroenterology.

He also had the opportunity to visit Given Imaging, a company that makes camera capsules that can be swallowed and then send images back to the doctors. “We use the capsules at Gastroenterology of Louisville,” Dr. Mark said, noting that they have used more than 1,000 of the tiny devices.

Isaac Ohayon and Kevin Ruby took Dr. Mark through the plant “from the beginning to the end.” He had a preview of new Given capsules that will be able to be used in examining the esophagus and the colon.

His hosts gave Dr. Mark the opportunity to ask questions and to share his ideas about what doctors in the field need.

Dr. Mark and his family were also able to spend some time touring the country from the Galilee to Eilat, and even making a side trip to Petra, Jordan. In Tiberias, the met his sister, Susan Lurie, and her family to celebrate his niece, Savannah’s, bat mitzvah. In Jerusalem, they stayed with a friend from high school that he hadn’t seen since 1982.

“I was there three weeks,” he said, “three of the most amazing weeks of my life.”

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