‘Amazing Race’ stars learn reality of challenged kids

TV show takes its stars to Shalva to meet challenged children; show front-runner says he feels "honored" to meet children.

June 27, 2013 23:12
2 minute read.
‘HAMEROTZ LAMILLION’ contestant Eliran Look (right) communicates with deaf and blind  Yossi Samuels

‘HAMEROTZ LAMILLION’ contestant Eliran Look 370. (photo credit: Courtesy of Shalva)

They have been racing across the globe from Israel to Spain, France and Brazil, but the stars of the Channel 2 reality show Hamerotz Lamillion (“Race to a Million”) confessed on Wednesday that they cannot compare the challenges they faced to those overcome by the children at Shalva. The show is the Israeli version of The Amazing Race program.

Shalva is the Association for Mentally and Physically Challenged Children in Israel. Its facility in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood treats more than 500 children with special needs via tailored programs and innovative therapy seven days a week.

The contestants on the show toured Shalva’s facility on Wednesday at the invitation of Ronny Zaltzman, who along with his wife, Andrea Simantov, were among the first racers who were sent home. The story of how Zaltzman, who is from Johannesburg, and native New Yorker Simantov met and fell in love at Shalva was featured on the show.

Since the show finished filming all but its final episodes, the contestants have taken turns hosting one another at their homes and at social events. Zaltzman decided it was important for the racers to come to Shalva to see first-hand what true physical challenges are in reality.

The contestants met Yossi Samuels, who was left permanently deaf and blind as a baby due to a faulty vaccination but learned how to communicate with the help of a gifted special education teacher. Now 36, Samuels reads two newspapers daily, is an expert on wine and cars, and worked until recently at Better Place.

“It’s an honor to meet you,” Eliran Look, an Ashdod Port worker who is a leading contestant on the race, told Samuels. “I admire you, because you have been through the real race. We haven’t overcome anything compared to what you have accomplished.”

Talia Gorodess, director of socioeconomic development at the Reut Institute, who is racing with her engineer husband, Koby Windzberg, said visiting Shalva put the race in perspective.

“People tell us that we have endured so many challenges, but what these children went through and are still going through is so much harder than anything we can imagine,” Gorodess said. “For them, it’s not temporary. It’s their life, and they were not given a choice.”

Gorodess, who is prohibited from revealing whether she is a finalist, said that if she and her husband win the race, she would donate a portion of the NIS million prize to Shalva. She said that since the shows were filmed in February, the contestants have forgiven one another for what they said in the heat of the battle and are now all good friends.

Simantov explained to the group that Shalva treats children from a cross-section of society. She said the organization had come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1990 to now, when she said the building’s “walls were bursting.” A new state of the art facility is being built for Shalva in Jerusalem’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood.

“There is no place like Shalva,” Simantov said. “It takes kids straight from the hospital and gives them hope. It allows families to embrace their children without resentment, breathe and live.”

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