The partnership between Rhode Island and Israel took to the water last week when Israeli veterans arrived in the U.S to spend a week sailing with Sail to Prevail, an organization that helps disabled people heal through sailing.
The Israelis are part of YamTov’s leadership program that helps veterans and their family members who suffer with PTSD make changes through competitive sea sports such as sailing.
The veterans in this group will return to their communities to serve as leaders and mentors.
Sail to Prevail – The National Disabled Sailing Project – runs programs in Newport for children with disabilities. It also runs veterans’ programs. But this is the first cross-cultural effort, according to CEO Paul Callahan.
The idea for this collaboration had its seeds in the 2012 London Paralympics. Callahan was a sailor and his chief competitor was an Israeli skipper, he said. The Israeli coach was Altman Israel, a social worker and one of the founders of YamTov.
The group of six Americans and eight Israelis visited the Jewish Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center on Sept. 14. They also went to the R.I. State House.
“I’m amazed at the feelings Rhode Islanders have for Israelis,” Ariela Alush said. “We have to do more.
“It’s interesting meeting the American vets. We can give inspiration to each other,” she said. “You cannot control what nature gives you, but you can control your sails.”
Alush, now an Israeli filmmaker, was injured in a terrorist attack on a beach in the Sinai Peninsula. She says that the sea is very meaningful to her.
She said sailing in the ocean off Newport was a great experience. “In Israel, we sail in the Mediterranean which is very calm like a hot tub.”
The American veterans who participated in the program had sailed with Sail to Prevail programs before and agreed that this was truly a unique experience.
Although the Americans did not speak Hebrew, the language barriers disappeared after a few hours on the water according to Larry, who said he’d been sailing for at least two dozen years. “This is a treat,” he said.
“We are all suffering from the same injuries,” said Paul Grace another American vet.
Both came to the program after being recommended by the Veterans Administration and working through the adaptive sports program there.
Altman Israel said of the Israeli group: “We want them to be leaders, to change their life by helping others, by giving back.”
Callahan said he hopes the collaboration will be ongoing. “It’s only powerful if you share what you learn,” he said.
The Israeli group spent a week in the United States. According to Altman Israel, fundraising for the group is ongoing. This trip was supported by many groups, including Israelis in Rhode Island, El Al Airlines, Discover Newport, Howard Johnson Hotel in Middletown and Touro Synagogue.
The hope is to take a group of American disabled veterans to Israel next year.
FRAN OSTENDORF is the editor of The Jewish Voice