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February 2 • 2012
First special needs soldier gets ready
to serve in the Israeli Army.
lad Gevandschnaider, 23, was
born with Down's syndrome.
Because of his disability, he
is not required to serve in the Israeli
Still, he decided to volunteer. It
started with two years of national ser-
vice in a primary school in Beersheva
in the southern part of Israel, and
now Elad has just learned he has been
accepted to serve two more years at an
Israeli army equipment base.
As a volunteer soldier, Elad has
dreamed of the day when he would be
able to wear a real soldier's uniform
and serve his country.
Talk to Elad and he will tell you
that the primary reason he has been
able to do something that no other
special needs person has done in the
history of Israel is because of his love
for tennis. He will also tell you how
the nonprofit Israel Tennis Centers has
been the focal point of his life for many
years. Seymour Brode, founder of the
Franklin Racquet Club in Southfield,
was one of the founders of the Israel
Elad has been playing tennis for six
years. He is the son of immigrants who
arrived in Israel in the 1960s: His father
is Polish and his mother hails from
Morocco. The family lives in Beersheva,
and Elad trains three times a week at
the Israel Tennis Center near his home:
twice in the Special Tennis Program
and once on the Achievement Program
where he competes with all the other
At the end of February, Elad will
travel to Florida for three weeks to
participate in exhibition matches to
raise funds for the Israel Tennis Centers
(ITC) and the special needs children's
programs — marking the first time
that a player with special needs will
travel to the United States and repre-
sent the Tennis Center Foundation in
such an event.
In the past year and a half, Had
has made great progress with his ten-
nis. It started at the National Special
Olympics tournament, which was fol-
lowed by the European Championships
held in Warsaw, Poland, in February
2010. Elad, during his first tournament
abroad, won the silver medal.
It was very emotional for his Polish
father, who accompanied him to
the tournament. Elad's father, Yossi
Gevandschnaider, said, "When Elad
Elad Gevandschnaider credits the
years spent at Israel Tennis Centers
for helping him achieve his goal to
serve as an Israeli soldier.
was 17, his physical education teacher
suggested he try to play tennis. I didn't
even realize that he was talented or
that he had any potential for success.
His coaches proposed that he start
competing in tournaments organized
by the Special Olympics organization
that works with the ITC. We started
traveling to tournaments throughout
Israel where Had achieved some great
In June 2011, Elad continued with
his international success — this
time at the World Games for Special
Olympics in Athens, Greece. Four play-
ers went out to represent Israel: Elad,
Tamir Segal (ITC-Kiryat Shmona) and
two Arab children, Muhammad Kunbar
and Jafar Tawil.
It was the first time that Arab
sportsmen represented Israel at an
international Special Olympics event
and both came from the tennis pro-
grams of the Israel Tennis Centers.
Had won the silver medal in singles
and, in the true spirit of co-existence,
he won the bronze doubles medal with
When they returned to Israel, the
athletes attended receptions hosted by
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and President Shimon Peres. The most
emotional moment of the reception
with the president came when Elad,
who even before the games in Greece
was filmed for a television commercial
singing "Hatikva," was asked by Peres
himself to stand and sing it again. Elad
stood up and sang the Israeli national
anthem in its entirety in front of the