Veterans: Restarting lives through sport

Mervyn ‘Rocky ’ Muravitz, 75, who made aliya from Durban to Ramat Gan in 1977.

Mervyn Muravitz (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Mervyn Muravitz
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
‘We rehabilitate any terrorism victim or any wounded soldier through any sport they choose,” says Mervin Muravitz (known to everyone as Rocky), founder of the Tikvot organization.
Through Tikvot (Hopes), wounded veterans and paraplegics are able to enjoy the sports they practiced before they lost limbs in fighting for their country, and terrorism victims are given the chance to restart their lives through sport. For all of them, the sports they are able to choose can be something they already did and loved, or a new sport more suited to their damaged bodies.
“We offer swimming, horse riding, triathlons, wind surfing, water surfing, tennis, table tennis – whatever they like,” says Rocky, who made aliya in 1977 from South Africa with his wife Vera and two small children.
Rocky is proud of the achievements of his athletes.
“We had one guy who lost both legs and competed in a 26-mile marathon,” he says.
He points out that, of course, wounded soldiers get prosthetic limbs funded by the government.
“But they are not sports legs,” explains Rocky. “Some of our guys need swimming legs, running legs and walking legs, which they change according to the activity they are doing at the time.”
Although not a great sportsman himself, he founded Tikvot in 2009, at the end of the second intifada, after a South African friend suggested he start an organization similar to one in his home country, offering sports for the injured.
The original plan was to do it through the Maccabi sports organization, of which he was an executive member.
“But the bureaucracy got on my nerves, so I broke away and started Tikvot on my own,” he says.
“We ask only three things of our athletes,” he adds. “We need a certificate from Bituah Leumi [National Insurance Institute], or the army to say the person is injured; a doctor’s letter allowing them to do the sport; and a price quote.”
He explains that he needs to know what it will cost so he can use his connections and influence to lower the price. Fortunately, most sports businesses are sympathetic when it comes to wounded veterans.
No one is ever turned away.
“We go from the superheroes and top fighters to little old ladies,” he says.
“The range of people we are prepared to help is very broad.”
Back in Durban, Rocky was in the toy importing business, and when he and Vera made aliya in 1977 with their two children, aged eight and 10, he really didn’t know what he was going to do in Israel.
While Vera went to ulpan Hebrew- language studies, Rocky began working with friends in the scrap metal business.
“I didn’t like it and stayed only a year, but at least I picked up Hebrew,” he says.
He then decided to do what he had done in South Africa – importing toys.
“I thought I was a star back in Durban, but I soon learned I knew nothing,” he says with a wry smile.
Vera was doing very well, having gone into selling real estate.
“She marketed the first kanyon [shopping mall] in Israel, in Ramat Gan,” he says.
Realizing he could not compete with established Israeli firms in the field of toys, Rocky went into financial services, joining a company that specialized in this, and he stayed there until his retirement a few years ago.
“Once I turned 70, I decided I would stop working and concentrate all my time and effort in Tikvot,” he says.
Before they made aliya, they acquired an apartment in Kiryat Krinizi in Ramat Gan, which proved convenient when Vera began working in the public relations department of Bar-Ilan University, something she still does. They still live there and think the area has a very interesting population.
“It’s sandwiched between a large hospital [Sheba Medical Center] and a university [Bar-Ilan], so the neighbors are an intriguing crowd of people,” he says. “There are few Anglos, so we integrated straight away.”
Rocky sees the future continuing very much as the present as far as Tikvot is concerned.
The director of the non-profit organization is his daughter Simone Farbstein, who is also active in the fund-raising necessary to run Tikvot, which has no government funding at all and is supported only by private donations.
If anyone is in any doubt that this is a worthy cause, Simone suggests they watch the YouTube video of Noam Gershony winning the gold medal in tennis in the Paralympic Games in 2012 – if they can see the screen through their tears as they watch Gershony wrapping himself in the Israeli flag.
Gershony, a helicopter pilot, lost his legs in 2006 and was told he would never walk again. Although at first reluctant and skeptical, through Tikvot he was persuaded to try water-skiing, then snow skiing, until he saw he could conquer anything and began playing tennis.
“Unfortunately, our work is never going to stop,” says Rocky. “The reality of the situation is that there will always be injured soldiers and people affected by terrorism.”
And Tikvot will be there for them – thanks to Rocky and his team of volunteers.