A powerful local celebration of sports, humanity

Comment: There was not a dry eye in the audience as each athlete was individually introduced and applauded.

Noam Gershony 311 (photo credit: Nimrod Bichler)
Noam Gershony 311
(photo credit: Nimrod Bichler)
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.
On Tuesday, 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.
Prime 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 spirit.”
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 applauded.
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 do.”
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 describe.”
“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.”
Netanyahu and 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 their coaches.
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 late-summer morning.
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.