Monday night’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, 62, leader of Islamic Jihad in Judea and Samaria and mastermind of numerous armed attacks on Jenin and Samaria, has led to threats of retaliatory attacks by Islamic Jihadist in Gaza. This has prompted Israeli security officials to raise the alert level in areas in close proximity to the Gaza Strip and close roads to traffic and even part of the railway line, out of fear of anti-tank rockets targeting vehicles in transit or the railway line between Ashkelon and Sderot.

Yet even the heightened security state in Israel wasn’t enough to stop Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Minister of Culture and Sports Chilik Tropper, and Chairman of Economic Affairs Michael Biton from keeping their word and joining Shalva’s kids and graduates on the basketball court in Shalva’s state-of-the-art National Center in Jerusalem. In the course of an exhilarating, action-packed day, the senior government officials toured Shalva’s modern campus, met students and graduates, and then joined Shalva’s basketball team on the court for an intensive game of ball.

Shalva National Center, one of the world’s largest centers for children and adults with disabilities, offers a wide range of rehabilitative programs for over 2,000 individuals with disabilities and boasts some of Israel’s most advanced handicapped-accessible facilities. Throughout three decades of award-winning programs, Shalva has gained renown as Israel’s flagship center for social services and is an internationally recognized leader in the field of transformative disability care and inclusion. With their dual goal of promoting inclusion in society and allowing each individual to maximize his or her talents, they’ve launched dozens of innovative programs for people with disabilities among them Shalva Band, Shalva Judo School, and Shalva’s Basketball Team.

“The atmosphere was electrifying,” exclaims Shalva’s Founder and Chairman Kalman Samuels, describing the game that pitted the talented members of Shalva’s basketball team against Israel’s Blue and White party officials. “It was a great honor having the Defense Minister and others join us today, especially in light of the security situation.”

“I was delighted to visit Shalva again and meet the wonderful staff and kids,” Minister of Defense Benny Gantz shared warmly. “Every time I come, I’m awed by the constant expansion, activities and achievements, the brilliant new ideas that Kalman Samuels and his team are always innovating to allow young people with disabilities to express themselves and their talents. There was an amazing energy here on the court, and it was an honor for me to be here.”

“This is what we mean when we talk about social change and acceptance,” Yochanan Samuels, Executive Director of Shalva, expresses. “Shalva has opened the door to success to so many young people and adults with physical and mental disabilities, providing them with a huge range of educational and vocational opportunities and means of exploiting their strengths and talents. When senior government officials set aside time from their schedules to play a good game with the kids, even with tensions in the country running high, we know we’re reaching our goal. I want to thank Minister of Defense Benny Gantz, Minister of Culture and Sports Chilik Tropper, and Chairman of Economic Affairs Michael Biton for showing the people of Israel how much we value people with disabilities and how much we can gain from respecting and treating them as equals.”