As we celebrate Jewish Disability Awareness Month this February and collectively acknowledge the value of including children and adults with disabilities in all spheres of Jewish life, we can draw much inspiration by the story of Elad Gevandschnaider from Beersheva.
Like most Israeli young adults, Elad, 23, has looked forward to serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) since he was young. “All of my family served in the army and that influenced my decision to enroll,” he is quoted as saying on the Israel Tennis Centers website. But Elad was born with Down syndrome, and is therefore exempt from army service.
Bu he decided to volunteer anyway, beginning with two years of national service in a primary school in the southern part of Israel, and now Elad has just learned that he has been accepted to serve two more years at an Israeli army equipment base and in the spring, he will be recruited as a soldier/volunteer in an official military ranking position. Elad is the only current Southern IDF volunteer, and is part of a total national IDF volunteer group of 15 individuals.
His family attributes much of his success and determination to his participation in the Israel Tennis Centers, where he has been playing tennis since the age of 17, as part of their extensive Special Tennis Programs at 14 Centers across Israel, serving 350 individuals. Elad will soon be traveling to Florida for three weeks to participate in exhibition matches in order to raise funds for the Israel Tennis Centers (“ITC”) and their special needs children programs – marking the first time that a player with special needs will travel to the United States and represent the Tennis Center Foundation in such an event.
Elad has won medals in international Special Olympics competitions including a very emotional moment for his Polish-born father, Yossi, when Elad won a silver medal in Warsaw, Poland in February 2010.
In the World Games for Special Olympics in Athens, Greece in June, 2011 Elad was one of four players representing Israel from various Israel Tennis Centers. Two of the other players were Arab children who trained at the Tennis Centers in Jerusalem, Muhammad Kunbar and Jafar Tawil. It was the first time that Arab sportsmen represented Israel at an international Special Olympics event. Elad won the silver medal in singles and to make that experience extra-cool, he won the bronze doubles medal with Muhammad Kunbar.
After the Army, Elad wants to seek employment in the private sector and he has a girlfriend that he met while participating in the Special Tennis Olympics.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
PS Take the Inclusion pledge and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles will donate $1 toward inclusion programs in our community for each unique signature gathered during February 2012 (up to $5,000).