President, First Lady with Deaflympics delegation
President, First Lady with Deaflympics delegation Chaim Tzach/GPO

President Isaac Herzog and First Lady Michal Herzog hosted the Israeli delegation to the Deaflympics at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. The Deaflympics will take place in May 2022 in Brazil, with an Israeli delegation of deaf and hard-of-hearing athletes who have won medals in international sports tournaments. Israel Deaf Sports Organization chairman and delegation head Ido Rosink and athletes taking part at the Deaflympics participated in the event.

President Herzog held an open conversation with Ido Rosink, chairman of the Israel Deaf Sports Organization and head of the Israeli Deaflympics delegation, with the assistance of a sign language interpreter. The President inquired about the size of the delegation, the categories in which it will be competing (tennis, basketball, and karate), and previous medals won by the athletes.

Rotem Ashkenazi, a tennis player with hearing problems, said: “In 2015 I won a gold medal as part of a hearing team. In 2020 I set up a team of deaf and hard-of-hearing kids, and it was the first time in history such a team was set up. I had always been alone, the only deaf person—both a girl, and deaf. My aim is to reach Europe and the Olympics. I teach hard-of-hearing kids and I hope that these children will grow up and be like me and achieve and succeed. I am really excited! I am deaf and proud of my deafness.”

Maor Ben Ze’ev, captain of the deaf and hard-of-hearing basketball team, told the President and the First Lady: “I’ve been playing basketball practically from birth: my mother told me I was born with a ball in my hand. When I was a child, I always took part in teams with kids who could hear, until the age of around 16-17, and I later joined a deaf team. It was the first time that I felt I belonged, that I was equal. Until then, the games were good, but I didn’t feel a sense of belonging. I didn’t have a shared language with the players who could hear. I didn’t feel a sense of partnership and belonging like I do with deaf and hard-of-hearing people confronting the same difficulties and frustrations. Our achievements in basketball are definitely respectable. I’ve been on the team for twelve years, and in 2010 we reached fourth place in the Deaflympics. My dream and my goal is that one day, sports will be equal for everyone.”

Maor added: “There are many stereotypes. When people see a deaf person, first of all they think he can’t do anything, and they worry how to communicate and speak with them. But there’s the language of basketball, and all you’ve got to do is understand that, and it’s the same thing the whole world over.”

President Herzog addressed the inspirational athletes and said: “It is a great honor that you are heading out on behalf of the State of Israel to represent us at the Deaflympics in Brazil. I look at you, and you know of course that if we bumped into each other in the street, we would not know that you had any hearing or speech impediments, and that is what makes your story distinct. The challenge is therefore twofold because your surroundings are unaware, and you need to constantly break the glass ceiling. Stephen Hawking once said that you mustn’t let the limitations of your body block your spirit, and you are proving that you have both spirit and body.”

The President wished the athletes success in sign language and concluded: “We wish you great success in your mission. This is a very important Olympiad, and I am continuing the tradition of President Peres and President Rivlin, who sent you to the tournament with their wishes for your success. We are waiting for you to come back with medals and we wish you success from the bottom of our hearts. You are a source of pride for the State of Israel.”