As an Argentinean-born Jew of Russian heritage, cultural diversity is part of my DNA. That’s why it was a shock when, as a young adult, I made aliya to Israel. Among the many wonderful things I discovered in the Holy Land, I also discovered how, for many Israelis, it seems natural for people of different backgrounds to remain separate and walled off from each other.

A case in point is the way people typically react when they hear about my friend, a lovely woman who uses a wheelchair. Many cannot hide their surprise when they learn that my friend is married – to a handsome man, no less! – and that they are raising a child together. Somehow, they have come to believe that people with disabilities dwell alone, and that they don’t share the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.

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I have always believed that the joining together of different traditions, histories, skin colors, mother tongues, customs – and, yes, abilities – is what makes a society strong. Even though I understand that a culture of unity and inclusion cannot be built in a day, I also know that breaking down barriers is an ongoing endeavor.

Today, I devote myself full-time to this struggle’s continuation. After a long career in the field of disability,, I now advocate for a special group of students at Keren Or – a school for blind and multiply-challenged children in Jerusalem. And I’m proud to say that, recently, Keren Or’s institutional culture of diversity and acceptance helped these students become winners in every sense of the word – as participants in the community race of the Jerusalem Marathon.

A “Light Bulb” Moment

Teamwork is key to the Keren Or philosophy, as family, professional staff and volunteers devote themselves to helping children realize their fullest potential, and to engage with the world around them in the most dignified and joyous way possible. Our staff realized that the Jerusalem Marathon’s community race – which is open to anyone, even participants not physically capable of running – was a perfect opportunity to come together as a team, and to spread the pleasure that comes from breaking down the barriers.

The Marathon is a top-tier international sporting event, where thousands upon thousands of runners compete for individual glory. But there is a glorious addition to the mix, as children using wheelchairs and walkers – children who depend on others to guide their way along the track – were able to share in the excitement. It was a tribute to the spirit of Jerusalem, where all people are meant to come together.

All for One, One For All

When the Keren Or administration floated the idea of registering students as participants in the community race, it was understood that the professional staff would be needed to supervise, guide and encourage the children. But the idea also inspired wider participation from family members, friends, national service volunteers and even an entire class level of teenagers from a local high school. This extended “cheering section” proved that breaking down the walls of difference was not simply an act of charity directed at the children – it was a formative, fun-filled experience for everyone involved.

The Keren Or team also included a celebrity guest athlete – someone who has an inspirational story of inclusion to tell. Zohar Sharon is a world champion professional golfer who lost his vision in an army accident. He continues to compete successfully against both blind and sighted players. A five-time winner of the International Blind Gold Championship – who smilingly admits he gets a particular thrill by beating out golf pros who can see – Zohar walked beside the Keren Or participants, as a living embodiment of the conviction that every challenge can also be seen as an opportunity.

Running, walking or rolling along the community race track, the entire Keren Or team wore matching T-shirts that served as a colorful expression of a unified belief: that no matter what your age, religious status, ethnicity or level of disability or fitness, the path to the finish line is best traveled together.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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