President Shimon Peres with youngsters from ILAN.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Shimon Peres hosted the annual reception for ILAN – Israel Foundation
for Handicapped Children on Thursday.
The reception began with a musical
performance by students of the Herzfeld School for Special Education in Holon,
whose mission it is to help physically and intellectually challenged children
reach their maximum potential.
Peres, Ehud Ratzabi, ILAN chairman, and
Shmuel Schnitzer, president of the Israel Diamond Exchange in Ramat Gan and ILAN
chairman of community relations, spontaneously mounted the stage at the end of
the performance to congratulate the performers.
Ratzabi, who has been
chairman of ILAN for seven years, said that witnessing what ILAN students could
do brought tears to his eyes, “it never goes away,” he said, choked with
Ratzabi said that it excites him to see a little girl who last
year had braces on her legs take her first steps without them, to watch the joy
of a child in a wheelchair when meeting soldiers at an Israeli army base, and to
hear an ILAN athlete call him by name.
The stigma attached to people in
wheelchairs, however, makes him angry. He’s met people with first and second
degrees, who cannot get a job because of potential employers, who instead of
looking at their qualifications, look only at the wheelchair.
realize that [president Franklin D.] Roosevelt had polio and was confined to a
wheelchair?” he asked, saying that his disability did not prevent him from
functioning as a president.
Ratzabi commended Peres’s attitude, the
rapport he has with disabled children and the effort he makes to have children
with disabilities integrated into mainstream society.
ILAN director, was appreciative of the fact that over the past decade Israel’s
business community has taken ILAN under its wing, particularly the members of
the Diamond Exchange, who he said not only contribute funds but time and
Schnitzer said the diamond industry wants to contribute and
adopted ILAN because they admire the spunk of its students and
Tzurieli announced that all members of the Rishon Lezion branch
of ILAN were present, and were all ILAN alumni who wanted to give back to the
Wheelchair-bound Shimon Keinan, who heads the Rishon Lezion
branch, appeared in a video production illustrating what these volunteers do. He
said he was cared for by ILAN from the age of four, when he lost his ability to
speak following an operation and did not regain it until he was 16.
proof that a wheelchair should not restrict anyone from living life to the full,
14-year-old Klil Or Ben-Haim, who sits on the board of the National Students
Council, said that she always went to regular schools, has had many fully able
friends, sat on various student committees, and never felt inhibited because of
“I was born handicapped,” she said. “I can’t change that,
but I can work towards changing society’s attitude. I volunteer in lots of
places, and people can see what I’m doing, so they treat me as an
Peres said to Schnitzer, “I want to tell you that of all the
diamonds you have, this is the jewel in the crown.”
To the ILAN
youngsters and alumni, he said, “You have a non-stop war and you must never give
in to despair. You not only fight every moment of your lives – you also triumph
every moment of your lives.”
“We are reaching an era when we can correct
many of nature’s mistakes. There are many ailments that were regarded for years
as incurable, and now they are being cured,” Peres said.
the incurable ailments for which solutions have been found, he gave hope to
countless families who may one day reap the benefits of medical science.