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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

What if I told you that there is an Israeli organization that has 800 participants whowere wounded in terror attacks or in military actions in defense of Israel and areactively engaged in triathlons, marathons, horse-back riding, karting, gymnastics,
rock-climbing, surfing, and skiing?

That’s right! TIKVOT has 800 members, all of whom were either Israeli victims of terror or wounded soldiers. TIKVOT pays for all of the expenses associated with its wide-ranging sports happenings and events. Speciallyadapted equipment enables the members to participate in sports. TIKVOT also assists the participants in any way necessary to help them to receive their government entitled benefits.

Founders of TIKVOT

TIKVOT (meaning “hopes” in Hebrew), is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization, which rehabilitates Israel’s victims of terror and wounded soldiers through sports. It was founded in 2004, at the height of the Intifada terrorist attacks, by Mervin “Rocky” Muravitz, Vic Essakow, and Ehud Edelman. Rocky is aSouth African Jew who made aliyahin 1977 and was involved in Sports Administration from an early age. As an ardent Zionist in Durban, South Africa, Rocky led the March in Durban, South Africa, protesting the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

Co-founder Vic Essakow, also a South African Jew, who made aliyahin 1976, was involved in sports as a student and was the South African javelin champion and record holder. Co-founder Ehud Edelman is the only native born Israeli of TIKVOT’s founders. For many years Ehud has been involved in philanthropic causes.

Rocky’s passionate and talented daughter, Simone Farbstein, the Director of TIKVOT, presently runs the organization and views its mission as her life’s purpose.

TIKVOT’s Mission

TIKVOT’s stated mission is to use sports to instill hope and to empower Israel’s wounded veterans and terror victims again.

It has been proven that sports mastery can be critical to the emotional and physical rehabilitation of our heroes, providing hope and giving them the power to restore self-confidence and dignity and ultimately bringing back those long-lost smiles.

TIKVOT has already helped thousands of severely injured Israelis to overcome their pain, trauma, and disability, and has helped them to rebuild productive lives.

The Syrian Community Connection

The Syrian community has had a strong bond with TIKVOT since its inception. Susan Franco is a devoted supporter of TIKVOT and joined Rabbi Naftali Besser, Yeshivah of Flatbush Dean of Students, 18 years ago to lead Yeshiva of Flatbush hesedmissions to Israel. Together they bring groups to Israel to perform a host of meaningful hesedprojects. The group of high school students comes in January, and the adults come in May. Included in the groups’ schedule are visits to TIKVOT.

Susan connected with TIKVOT in what she describes as a most amazing way. She had been going on the hesedmissions for a few years when her cousin, Zac Gindi, told her that it’s a must for her to have Steve Averbach speak to her group when she goes to Israel. It turned out that Steve had been a Hillel Yeshiva student in Deal and was a close friend of Zac and Dr. Jeffrey Elbaum, a staunch supporter of TIKVOT (Dr. Elbaum has served as the Vice President of TIKVOT for the past 12 years). Steve made aliyahin 1982 and served in the Israeli army in the Golani special forces unit. As a policeman, he was part of a S.W.A.T. team called Yassam, and later on was a weapon and defense instructor (his nickname was “Gunner”). Steve was injured on May 18, 2003 by a terrorist in Jerusalem. As a result, he became a quadriplegic. He was riding the number six Egged bus when he spotted a terrorist. By reaching for his gun, he frightened the terrorist into detonating himself prematurely, and saved an untold number of lives. In addition to being honorary Vice President of TIKVOT, Steve served as the TIKVOT spokesman. His goal was to help victims of terror, both children and adults, to rehabilitate their lives through sports. Steve passed away peacefully at his home in Israel atthe age of 43, in 2010.

Focus on TIKVOT Director, Simone Farbstein

Susan also spoke with great admiration about Simone’s vital role at TIKVOT. “TIKVOT is not a job to Simone, it’s her life, and its clients are her family.” Simone operates TIKVOT out of her home, with only one paid employee. All the rest are volunteers. Simone attends every sports event, including TIKVOT’s annual skiing trip to Italy.

When I first talked with Simone, she had just returned from Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv. She was excited to tell me that every Friday she joins a phenomenal surfing event there. A group of bereaved sisters of Israeli soldiers and victims of terror started this weekly gathering. Wounded soldiers and terror victims also surf.

Simone also shared with me what happened on one of her first visits to injured Israeli citizens who were hospitalized. It was then that she met Noam Gershony, a former helicopter pilot who was severely wounded during the second Lebanon War when his helicopter collided with another helicopter while on a special mission. After his injury, Gershony started his rehabilitation with waterskiing and snow skiing.

Simone asked Noam, “Do you want to surf with me? To which he responded, “Are you crazy?! I am paralyzed, I can’t surf.” Simoneinsisted, saying, “Spend a day with me at the Kinneret.” Noam relented. He found he was able to surf using a special chair donated by community members Susan and Elliot Cohen. Noam joined TIKVOT and began to play tennis. At the London 2012 Paralympics, Noam won the gold medal for tennis.

The Amputee Marathon Runner

Another awesome TIKVOT hero is Eitan Hermon. Eitan was wounded in 2006 during the second Lebanon War, when his tank was hit by a roadside bomb. When evacuated, lying on a stretcher, Eitan said over and over again, "I will still run a marathon!"

After a prolonged hospital stay and many months of rehabilitation, Eitan ultimately required an amputation right below the knee, and his world was turned upside down. He was fitted with a special prosthetic leg for running, purchased by TIKVOT, and a year after the amputation he started training for national and international competitions. Within four months Eitan completed his first 10K. After 16 marathons sponsored by TIKVOT, Eitan broke the world record for amputees at the Vienna Marathon. Eitan’s new goal is to run in the New York Marathon this coming November.

Why Sports?

Susan explained that sports give people back their self-esteem and a new reason to live. “Sports give people a reason to wake up in the morning. It offers the injured soldiers and victims a reason to live and transitions them back to being a person.”

Imagine what it’s like to be an Israeli soldier who is used to constantly being active, and who suddenly gets severely wounded and finds he cannot run or even walk. They lose hope. Susan added thatshe has heard first-hand from those who have been injured about the powerful results of doing sports. She says, “They are flying high when they are involved in their sports, they forget their disabilities. Can you understand what it's like to ski after sacrificing your legs for your country? Think of what it means to conquer a mountain after losing your eyesight as a result of your service and sacrifice to your nation?”

Community Support

TIKVOT’s diverse and exhilarating sports activities are funded by its generous supporters. A successful fundraiser recently took place on July 9th, 2019 in Elberon, New Jersey. The beautiful gala, hosted by Stephanie and Jack Mosseri in their home, honored Florence and Jeffrey Elbaum, and was dedicated in memory of Steve Averbach, a”h.The Mosseris met TIKVOT members on a Yeshiva of Flatbush hesedmission to Israel, and have since been strong supporters of TIKVOT. Simone and her dad Rocky, along with three TIKVOT participants, Matan Berman, Yaron Porter, and Shahaf Segal, came to speak to guests at the July 9th event. All three shared their life stories, and told about their injuries, their struggles, and their initial despair. They described how TIKVOT and Simone helped them restore and transform their lives back through sports.

Why Donate to TIKVOT?

Both Susan and Simone provided spot-on answers, which really hit home.

Susan said, “We owe the soldiers and citizens of Israel everything. We are nothing without a strong Israel. TIKVOT’s participants gave a part of their bodyand/or brain to ensure the existence of the State of Israel.”

Simone added, “It is a privilege to work with these men and women. They gave everything to protect us, it’s the least we can do for them, to help them become active and rebuild their lives. Without our soldiers and the State of Israel, it would be difficult for Jews to live safely anywhere, including the U.S.”