On every day of every year, in every city in the world, there is a location or
event that, in a somewhat intangible but very real way, personifies what it
means to be in that place at that moment.
The locale’s historically and
socially significant “IT-place-for- the-day,” so to speak.
September 11, 2012, in Jerusalem, that site was the President’s Residence on
HaNassi Street, where the six Israeli medal winners of the London Paralympics
were treated to a hero’s welcome upon their triumphant return home.
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Minister of Culture and
Sport Limor Livnat and award-winning singer David D’Or were all among the VIPs
on hand as part of the festivities, however the undisputed guests of honor were
the bejeweled athletes: Swimmer Itzhak Mamistvalov and his bronze, also-bronzed
quaddoubles tennis player Shraga Weinberg, cyclist Koby Lion and shooter Doron
Shaziri with their respective silvers, swimmer Inbal Pezaro necklaced with her
second Paralympic triple-haul of three bronze and the golden boy himself, Noam
Gershony, who took first place in the quad-tennis singles tournament as well as
a bronze with Weinberg in doubles.
If you combined the notions of
“honor,” “glory,” “pride” and, perhaps most of all, “hope” and wrapped them all
into one blue-and-white ball of positive emotions, you would begin to approach
the feeling that permeated through the outdoor reception and informal indoor
ceremony on Tuesday morning.
“Thank you for buoying the hopes of our
entire nation,” Peres eloquently opened.
“For inspiring us all through
your individual achievements.”
Quoting from the scripture in Zechariah,
the president continued to the medalists, “the greatness of a person is not
judged by might or by strength, but by his or her spirit.
All of you are
a testament to the power of the human spirit, the Israeli
Indeed, the celebration was definitely of something that
transcended pure sports.
There was not a dry eye in the audience of
mostly family and media members as each athlete was individually introduced and
Peres delicately pointed out that the victories in London
were, in a sense, heightened by the fact that “each of you have overcome amazing
challenges and reached the highest pinnacle of what you have chosen to
The athletes, most of whom had yet to unpack with the delegation’s
return from England less than a day earlier, all had slightly different spins on
their accomplishments, but the theme of national pride was a familiar mantra
across the board.
“The best part of the whole experience was standing on
the podium and hearing Hatikva
playing,” exclaimed Gershony. “Just a few years
ago, I wasn’t even playing competitive tennis. To now be a representative of
Israel and win a gold medal is a feeling that is very hard to
“I definitely don’t look at any of my medals as personal
prizes,” explained Pezaro, who at 25 already has compiled an eight-medal trove
of four bronze and four silver spanning three Paralympics.
“All of us
understand and appreciate that we are representing Israel and we want to do our
best to bring honor to our homeland.”
Asked if she anticipates
participating four years from now in Rio, Pezaro joked, “I guess it’s like
childbirth. After everything it takes to go through it, immediately after you
tell yourself ‘I’ll never do that again.’ But two or three years down the road,
you forget that feeling and want to do it once more.”
Livnat both spoke briefly, with the prime minister referring to Herzl’s famous
phrase, “if you will it, it is no dream,” to tribute the six podium climbers and
Livnat awarding more than a million shekels of prize money to the medalists and
More memorable than medals or money or glory, however,
were the smiles.
To see the 29-year-old Gershony, who was injured as an
IDF pilot in the 2006 Lebanon War, surrounded by his friends and family with a
look of sheer, unbridled joy on his face is the lasting picture of a poignant
The entire scene brought to mind one of my all-time
favorite movie lines; from Shawshank Redemption, when Andy wrote in a letter to
Red, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things.”
And so I thought –
as D’Or closed the fete by serenading touching renditions of “Shir Ha’maalot
and the national anthem – rarely has the message of “Hatikva
” rang more true.