JCC Cares, the annual community service project of the Maccabi Games, has always been an important aspect of the sports event. This year’s project proves to be a thoughtful reminder about the importance of sports for athletes of all abilities.
Maccabi participants will collaborate with the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled and the Shepherd Center to learn about and participate in service projects related to disabilities and sports.
ISCD is a sports rehabilitation center for all ages in Ramat Gan, Israel. Its many athletes compete in various Paralympic games in more than 20 sports. “It’s a perfect combination for Maccabi Games, especially for the day of caring, because it [ISCD] allows people with physical disabilities to get the thrill and experience of feeling success through sports that the participants of Maccabi get when they play their sports,” said Jennifer Fink, national executive director of the American Friends of ISCD.
The ISCD will be bringing in some of its best athletes to participate in a Disabled Athlete Exhibition, which will include wheelchair basketball games and education about disabled athletes and sports therapy.
These athletes include Asel Shabo, a wheelchair basketball player who lost his leg in a terrorist attack; 16-year-old wheelchair tennis player Maayan Zikri; Tal Dagan, a 12-year-old basketball player with cerebral palsy, and 13-year-old Omri Bergman, a paraplegic wheelchair basketball player.
The goal of the exhibition is for Maccabi athletes to understand what it truly means to be an athlete, no matter your ability. “It’s so powerful that you could hear a pin drop with a thousand kids in that room,” said Michelle Leven, JCC Cares co-chair.
Also participating in the exhibition will be the Shepherd Center, a local nonprofit hospital in Atlanta that focuses on medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with neuromuscular problems such as spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
In addition to the exhibition, athletes will participate in two hands-on service projects during JCC Cares. They will learn about the importance of art therapy in physical rehabilitation and will help to create two pieces in a workshop led by two local professional artists and an art therapist. “We thought that maybe something permanent at both Shepherd Center and ISCD was [an] everlasting gift to show our support and partnership,” Leven said.
The art will be created by having the athletes step on painted bubble wrap to splatter paint, which professional artists will then transform into two meaningful pieces that will be revealed at the end of the games. The two art pieces will be permanently installed at both the ISCD and Shepherd Center.
“At ISCD in Ramat Gan, because of the generosity of the Mike and Andrea Leven Family Foundation and our Atlanta Friends, we have been able to build out a state-of-the-art 4,000-square-foot adaptive fitness center with special equipment, … and the art project they’re doing is going to be hung in the Atlanta Community Adaptive Fitness Center,” Fink said. “We have a very strong group of supporters in Atlanta, and we are very grateful for our Atlanta family.”
The Atlanta Community Adaptive Fitness Center is a new part of the ISCD that recently opened and was funded by members of the Atlanta Jewish community. “It’s provided something for the Atlanta community to be proud of,” Leven added.
Maccabi athletes have been asked to purchase and bring in items such as clothes, rehabilitation supplies, household supplies, games and movies to donate for patients staying at the Shepherd Center. These donations are important to the Shepherd Center because most patients and their families are housed there for months and years at a time while they receive treatment. Athletes will be packaging these items to deliver to the center at the conclusion of the games.
“It’s been a work in progress over the last two years. We’re excited to really visit with the athletes, and we cannot wait to share the ISCD and the Shepherd Center with the larger community,” Leven said.
The Disabled Athlete Exhibition will take place Tuesday, July 30, and Wednesday, July 31.