Acre special-needs sports group sails through difficult times

HaYamiya, which began its activities with only four participants, now has more than 20 members.

kayaking 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kayaking 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Rami Lebber has been sailing since he was 15. But when his daughter Tali was born with severe Down's syndrome in 1989, this seemingly simple activity took on a whole new meaning. Lebber wanted to include his daughter in a sport that was close to his heart. As a result, in 1996, together with his friend Eli Ronen, he founded HaMoadon HaYamiya, an Acre-based not-for-profit organization that facilitates kayak and sailing activities for children and adults with special needs. HaYamiya, which began its activities with only four participants, now has more than 20 members, who are inspired by the motto "Kol Echad Yachol" ("Everybody is able.") The organization has an open inclusion policy, allowing people with any type of disability to participate, and also encouraging participation from a broad cross-section of society. While Hayamiya, which runs activities every Friday afternoon, was not established as a "coexistence" organization per se, it does have both Arab and Jewish leaders and participants. "Coexistence for us," says Lebber, "is about not making an issue of coexistence. We have Arab leaders and participants, without any distinction made between Arab and Jew." In addition, the organization works closely with and relies on the support of local Arabs, particularly fishermen, yacht owners and tourist boat operators. After Yom Kippur, which this year saw Acre erupt in violence, HaYamiya activities were canceled because parents were afraid to send their children to take part. But the riots had no long-term negative impact on HaYamiya's activities. By the second Friday after Yom Kippur, half of the participants had returned, and by the third, activities resumed as usual. "We didn't feel the hostility at all from the Old City. On the contrary, there was an all-round desire to get life back on track and return to normal," says Lebber. Yossi Rott, the organization's safety officer, is adamant that the group continue its important work. "I think that there are extremists on both sides who try to exacerbate the situation," says Rott. "The solution is to not let these extremists aggravate the situation and to try to continue working on coexistence." Lebber said there is no tension between Arab and Jewish participants. "Everyone comes and participates. There is a lot of happiness, enjoyment, love and closeness between the participants, without any difference between Arabs and Jews." The activities are well respected by the locals. Even the "mischievous children who live within the Old City are aware of the activities and are considerate of our participants," Lebber said. Lebber would like more Arabs to participate. "We have not managed," he says, "to attract Arab children from the Old City, who for whatever reason, [and] despite the fact that we are known in the area, do not come to the activities." Tali Lebber passed away in 2007 at age 18. From this little "treasure," as her mother eulogized her, emerged an organization that has contributed to the happiness of dozens of children, and enriched the lives of the volunteers who work with them.