Everyone loves a hero, and currently, Israel’s most beloved heroes are the gold,
silver and bronze medalists who brought so much honor and glory to Israel at the
London Paralympic Games.
Winners are always popular figures, but more so
when they beat near impossible odds as did all the members of Israel’s
To quote Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat – who
on Tuesday attended a reception for the team that was hosted by President Shimon
Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the President’s Residence –
“You’re all gold!” Looking around at the athletes with their varied disabilities
and their amazing prowess, Peres turned to Netanyahu and said: “This is the best
coalition there is.”
Peres, Netanyahu and Livnat each spoke of the pride
and honor that the athletes had brought to the country through their triumph of
“What you did was unbelievable,” Peres told the team, with
particular emphasis on tennis player Noam Gershony who came home with a gold
medal and a bronze; shooter Doron Shaziri and cyclist Kobi Lion who each won a
silver medal; swimmer Inbal Pezaro who netted three bronze medals; swimmer
Itzhak Mamistvalov; and tennis player Shraga Weinberg – who each won a
Gershony, a wheelchair tennis player who can walk with the aid of
crutches, sat in a regular upholstered chair for the occasion, but made a point
of standing for the national anthem – something he had been unable to do when
the Israeli flag was hoisted at his gold medal presentation in London. Disabled
after his helicopter crashed during the Second Lebanon War shed tears upon the
occasion of bringing honor to his country.
Netanyahu acknowledged that he
had become so excited when watching the game and its aftermath that his eyes had
also filled with tears. In all honesty, he confessed, he had not imagined such
remarkable results when, before departing, the team had presented him the
Paralympic Medallion, which he said he would keep until their return with medals
rather than a medallion.
“The whole country identified with you because
you represent the best of the spirit of the nation,” said Netanyahu. “You
struggled, but you won.”
Netanyahu characterized the Paralympic team as
the personification of the slogan on which the State of Israel was created – “If
you will it, it is no dream…” Peres thanked the team for bringing hope and pride
to the country and noted that each member had set an example for all disabled
children in Israel by showing them the extent to which a person can rise above
his or her circumstances and become a champion.
“No-one can give you what
you have,” Peres said in admiration of the strength of character that motivates
each of the athletes.
Livnat said the Paralympic team should receive the
same regard as the Olympic team and that her ministry – in recognition of the
sacrifices every athlete had to make – had decided to reward the medalists and
their trainers in the same way as Olympians, having allocated NIS1,335,000 in
prize monies as a token of appreciation.
Gershony received the lion’s
share at NIS 250,000, plus NIS 125,000 for his coach Kobi Weiner. The other
athletes applauded and some gave him a standing ovation.
Livnat said that
when Netanyahu heard about the prize money, he asked whether she had a budget
for it. Her answer was that in general her ministry has a small budget, “but for
this we have a budget.”
Responding on behalf of all the medalists,
Gershony said he spoke not only in the name of the winners, but for the entire
team. This had been his first foray into the Paralympics, and it had been an
incredibly exciting experience.
Unlike so many who criticize the media,
Gershony was appreciative of all the coverage the Paralympics had received,
because it caused wider public awareness of and interest in the
He also thanked families and friends who had supported the
athletes, not just when they won medals but during their worst periods when they
faced disappointment and disillusionment.
All the athletes had been proud
to represent the State, he said.
He was also appreciative of all the
warmth and affection that had been showered on the team.
In raising a
glass of champagne to toast the Paralympic team, Peres said: “You have brought
us all a happy New Year.”