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 Paralympic team.

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 the spirit.

“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 bronze.

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 Paralympics.

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.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger