Zviya Lushe, Chana Ben-Shoan, Yitzchak Caravani and Dorit Baxter didn’t know the five disabled Israeli athletes who came here last week to compete in the New York Marathon, but the former Israelis who now live in the New York area opened their homes and businesses to the visitors.
“Most of all, their hearts,” said Yoel Sharon, executive director of Etgarim (Hebrew for challenges), an 8-year-old organization that brings outdoor and adventure sports to Israel’s disabled population. Etgarim sponsored the Israeli delegation in the marathon.
The four men and one woman were hosted by the families of Ben-Shoan and Caravani in New Jersey, and treated to massages at Baxter’s upscale spa in Manhattan during their days before and after the race. Lushe, a volunteer from Great Neck, L.I., helped arrange the logistics.
“It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s a family,” Sharon, a hand-cycle marathoner and head of the Israeli delegation, said of the reception by heretofore strangers. “The Israeli community in North America is a very caring community.”
“We just wanted them to relax,” said the Iranian-born Baxter, who invited the Israelis, in their wheelchairs, for post-race rubdowns, serving them pita and Israeli bean salads. The East Sider watched the competition from her apartment near the 59th Street Bridge, yelling “YIS-RA-AIL” as the Etgarim entrants, outfitted in uniforms with an Israeli flag, rolled by.
Along the 26-mile 385-yard route, a few supporters waved small Israeli flags.
“It gave us incentive,” said Sharon, who finished 30th out of 150 hand-cyclists. Zur Feldman, who came in seventh in last year’s New York Marathon, was Israel’s top finisher this week, in 10th place.
Sharon, 53, paralyzed from the waist down, was wounded on the last day of the Yom Kippur War in 1953. A one-time filmmaker, he founded Etgarim, along with a group of disabled soldiers, to effect “a major change in the education and physical, emotional and social rehabilitation of people with disabilities in Israel.”
Etgarim’s 5,000 members — ex-soldiers, accident victims and people with disabling diseases — engage in such sports as kayaking and windsurfing, rappelling and go-carting, skydiving and gliding. Its Children of Etgarim division arranges army service for the disabled, and a new outreach offers its activities to victims of terrorism. (For information, check the Etgarim Web site: www.etgarim.org.)
A group of Israelis here pledged 10 hand-cycles to Etgarim, Sharon said. In return, the visiting Israelis offered medals and pennants, and hugs and Israeli invitations, as thanks.