In a heartwarming commencement to the three-day European Judo Championships that opened in the Tel Aviv Convention Center last Thursday, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Israeli Judo Association Director Moshe Ponte were joined onstage by Shalva’s special children.

A former Olympic sportsman and coach, Israel Judo Association President Moshe Ponte maintains that “Judo became Israel’s unofficial national sport with five of its nine Olympic medals coming in judo. Soccer may be more popular, but this is what we’re good at. Every second kid in Israel does it."

Judo championship in Tel Aviv
Judo championship in Tel Avivצילום: Shalva

This is the first year that Israel hosted the Senior European Championships, a significant milestone in honor of the country’s 70th anniversary. The prestigious 3-day Championship event, held in the brand-new Tel Aviv Convention Center, united 400 athletes from 50 countries, and a group of 10 young judokas with special needs. The tournaments, which integrated the young athletes into the event, began on Thursday, April 26, and ended Saturday, April 28.

European Judo Championships Tel Aviv
European Judo Championships Tel AvivShalva

Shalva is Israel’s Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. The Association supports and facilitates individuals with disabilities and their families. As the largest and most advanced center in Israel for children with disabilities, Shalva National Center provides an all-encompassing range of services to over 2,000 individuals with disabilities on a weekly basis. Shalva's round-the-clock programs offer a host of therapies, educational frameworks, social and recreational activities, as well as respite and family support to special children and their beleaguered family members.

Special needs Judo
Special needs JudoShalva

Since Shalva's establishment 28 years ago, the organization has launched numerous programs with the goal of granting people with disabilities the best care possible; supporting their families; and promoting inclusion in society. One of these accomplishments is the Shalva Judo school.

Shalva’s Judo school opened about eight months ago under the direction of Israeli Olympic medalist Ori Sasson. Sasson donated the Judo jacket that he’d worn when winning a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics to Shalva. The organization put the item up for auction and collected $100,000, which was then used to found the Shalva Judo School. The special children who are members of Shalva’s Judo School practice once a week with their trainer Gadi Ben-Lulu, a certified Judo professional, and have already earned their yellow belts.

Special needs Judo
Special needs JudoShalva

In a poignant moment that manifested the inclusion and acceptance of diversity that characterize Israeli society, members of Shalva’s Judo school participated in the official opening ceremony for the European Judo Championship by leading a demo practice for the audience. The children were invited onstage where they stood proudly alongside Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev; Israeli Judo Association President Moshe Ponte; IJC Director Marius Vizer; and European Judo Union President Sergey Soloveychik. The children presented Minister Regev with a judo belt that they had decorated specifically for the event, which Regev tied proudly around her waist.

Throughout the three days of the Championships, Shalva children performed for thousands of spectators, leading demo practices during breaks between competitions.

Special needs Judoka
Special needs JudokaShalva