Aug 7, 2012

In one of Jerusalem’s most popular summer events, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Safra Square (City Hall) transforms for a week into a massive basketball court with competitions for city youth and showcase games with professional players.

Called Streetball, this year’s event hosted hundreds of games with government ministers and famous basketball players.  And, for the second year in a row, on the final day of the tournament the Jerusalem Municipality held a special all-star game – dedicated to the special children of ALEH!

ALEH residents and staff made their way to Safra Square in anticipation of the big game.  All other games came to a halt as hundreds of people gathered round, to watch a moving ceremony as ALEH’s residents were wheeled out in style, personally escorted by some of the biggest names in professional basketball.  The stars, wearing T-shirts in support of ALEH, included Meir Tapiro, retired great Miki Berkovich and his son Niv, Alex Tzovarvich; Guy Dota; and noted basketball commentator Eli Sahar.

The crowd cheered wildly as the kids were wheeled out one by one, each accompanied by one of the pros, who introduced ‘his’ child by name.  When they had all had their turn in the limelight, Tal, one of ALEH’s veteran residents, handed out small gifts to each of the basketball greats, who were moved by the gesture.  As the veteran pro, Miki Berkovich spoke on behalf of the players, relating what a privilege it was to play for the precious children of ALEH.  He explained that every individual is blessed with his or her own talent, and that it is our responsibility to use our talents and abilities for the good of society.  “In my case and the other players, our way of giving is through sport,” said Berkovich, who also took the opportunity to thank ALEH’s staff and volunteers for their dedicated work.

The game between the all-stars began and, fittingly, it finished in a draw, supporting ALEH’s contention that everyone is a winner!  In what has become a post-game ritual, ALEH’s residents, each accompanied by a volunteer, came back to center court to dance together with the players, while the watching crowd cheered, gave a thumbs up and even joined in!  They danced to the joyous strains of “Oleh Oleh” (a song familiar to those who participated in the recent Flashmob) and a wonderful time was had by all.

It was more than simply a sporting way to support ALEH.  The event enabled ALEH’s special-needs children to participate in a sports event, just like their peers, and it encouraged integration and acceptance of the disabled in the wider community – the television viewing audience as well as the hundreds of people in attendance.   Before they went home, every one of ALEH’s residents got to take a photo together with the players, and they were assured by Miki Berkovich himself:  “I promise to come and visit you on your turf – at ALEH Jerusalem!”


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