The bowling ball rolled slowly down the lane, swerving precariously to the left, hitting the bumper and then veering at a snail’s pace to the right. But when seven pins went down, a cry of triumph erupted from the young crowd. This was no regular throw. It was the first time that wheelchair-bound Jerusalemites were able to bowl from their chairs with friends.

It all came about when a group of high school volunteers for the Bema’aglei Tzedek (Circles of Justice) organization decided to take action for their newfound friends at Beit Hagalgalim (House of Wheels).

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“In ninth grade, everyone needs to do a personal volunteer project,” explains Evyatar Rubin. “My friend and I joined Bema’aglei Tzedek. The focus of our group was to increase handicap accessibility in the city.”

One of their first activities was to ride in a wheelchair on Rehov Emek Refaim, to see how it felt. “It was really difficult,” says Rubin. “The sidewalks were narrow with no ramps, and it was hard to maneuver.”

As the group of nine girls and boys, representing the gamut of Jerusalem’s religious high schools – Hartman, Tehilla, Pelech, Horev and Omaniot – met each week to discuss action for wheelchair accessibility, they decided to meet with their disabled peers.

“We were just talking about change, but how could we advocate if we didn’t know the people we were advocating for?” says Smadar Neuri.

Bema’aglei Tzedek counselors arranged for the young people to get together with teens from Beit Hagalgalim. “We did a Tu Bishvat Seder and had a great bonfire on Lag Ba’omer,” explains Neuri. However, when the group decided to go bowling together, the young volunteers saw that the bowling alley was not wheelchair accessible. “We could have gone to a movie, as there is accessibility, but we wanted to do something more interactive, together,” says Tamar Schachter.

“We decided then and there that we needed to do something about this,” says Tamar Cohen Hattab.

They arranged a meeting with Yoav Svolohi, director of Jerusalem’s only bowling alley, Bowling Lev Talpiot. As fate would have it, Svolohi, the father of five, has a wheelchair-bound son who suffered from a virus that attacked his spinal cord when he was 14. However, when Svolohi originally suggested to his son, an avid bowler, that he would make adjustments to the alley so he could bowl again, his son rejected the idea. Svolohi didn’t pursue it.

“We met with Yoav and spoke to him about our concerns,” says Hattab. “We brought a professional who gave us advice on the simplest way to make the bowling alley accessible. Yoav listened to us and worked with us.”

“I was totally taken with these kids,” says Svolohi. “They did not come shouting or protesting. They came as friends. We talked, and they put forth their ideas with such passion. I knew that this was the right thing to do, but they gave me the push to do it.”

The major obstacle was one small step that was difficult to traverse with a wheelchair, says Hattab.

Svolohi built a ramp himself, giving wheelchair access to the lanes from a side entrance next to the last lane in the bowling alley. The costs were minimal, covering the purchase of the supplies.

Svolohi is now working on developing a slide-like device on wheels on which the wheelchair-bound can place the bowling ball and move it into position. “Now they throw the ball from the chair. But with this new device, they will be able to have more control,” he explains.

For the teens from Beit Hagalgalim, the majority of whom suffer from muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy and cancer, the launching of the new ramp was a joy. “Now bowling is accessible,” says Rotem Elnatan, who has cerebral palsy. “This is lots of fun. Not like last time when they tried to take me out of my chair.”

“Rotem was so excited about today,” says his mother, Debby, originally from Pennsylvania. “When he previously came to the bowling alley, he didn’t know there was no accessibility and he was furious and frustrated.”

The teens advertised the opening to their friends on Facebook, and dozens came out to bowl and support their friends. Jordan Schindler helped Hagit, whom she had met minutes before, adjust the ball on her wheelchair and jumped up and down clapping when Hagit knocked some pins down. “I think what my friends are doing is great, and I wanted to be part of it,” says Schindler.

Devorah Ben-Ansh, one of the 15 student volunteer counselors working with the 15 teens from Beit Hagalgalim’s Jerusalem branch, explains that the nonprofit organization provides monthly Shabbat get-togethers for the youngsters, as well as afternoon activities.

“The kids really look forward to meeting with their friends from Bema’aglei Tzedek. There is great interaction between them.”

In presenting a certificate of appreciation to Svolohi, Hattab said she hoped this would be an example for other places in Jerusalem to become wheelchair accessible.

“It makes me so proud to see this,” says Hattab’s mother, Michal. “These kids are using their time and energy for such positive things that are real and very important to them.”

“We hope that when their personal project is over, the volunteers will continue with Bema’aglei Tzedek,” says 27-year-old Oudi Gimmon, one of the volunteer coordinators.

“I really feel like we did something to change their lives,” says Rubin, and all his friends nod in agreement.

“You don’t have to be the prime minister to bring about change,” says Hattab. “Every small step counts.”
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