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On Exodus and Wheelchair Basketball: From tragedy to triumph, from slavery to freedom

Erev Shabbat, Parshat Shmot, 5774

Dear friends and families,

Our school, quite paradoxically, has a great relationship with our local RCMP detachment.  It’s not uncommon to have the cops drop into the school every so often and check in, provide us with important information, or notify us about community programs taking place.  I met Cpl. Kevin Krygier of the RCMP a few months ago at a parent program that our school was hosting, and I came away impressed by his dedication to his job and to keeping the school and community safe.  We have been in touch over the last few months, and recently, he reached out to me with an irresistible offer – he coordinates the Richmond RCMP School Sports Program, which brings together inspirational athletes, members of the local RCMP, and elementary aged school kids. The goal of the program is to impart insight and wisdom about overcoming challenges, achieving goals, and generally being a good citizen.  Would we be willing, he asked, to partner with the RCMP and BC Wheelchair Basketball and host a wheelchair basketball demo for the students supervised by a BC Wheelchair Basketball coach, have a chance to have the grade 7’s play a game of wheelchair basketball against the cops, and meet with Amanda Yan, a member of Team Canada’s Women’s National wheelchair basketball team, and rising star on the basketball court.  I wish all requests were so easy!

The program took place this Wednesday, and it was a special and moving experience (no pun intended) for all involved. Playing basketball in a wheelchair requires such an adjustment – for those who never play the game, you think to yourself that it can’t be that hard, as all you do is replace running up and down the court with the wheelchair, right?  However, for those who play basketball, it is a completely humbling experience at first, because you realize how much of your shooting has always come from your hips and your legs, which you take for granted.  And that’s all gone when you play wheelchair basketball, at least until you adjust to shooting entirely with your arms (which I failed at miserably during the game!). The high point for me and many of the students was meeting with Amanda Yan, and hearing her difficult but inspiring story (a great article about her can be found here).

Action shot!

The parsha this week is Shmot, Exodus, which tells of the beginning of the period of hundreds of years of slavery of the Jews in that narrow restrictive place, Mitzrayim, Egypt.  An hour before the wheelchair basketball game, I was in my office, working on reports while following a live webcast on my father’s YouTube channel marking the publication of his first sefer, his first book, titled Exodus: The Model of Personal Liberation, which is about how Exodus gives us an insight into the parsha of the week as a model for personal liberation.  In his dvar torah, he talked about some of the really challenging times in his life, how he had to acknowledge Hashem’s role in those time, and in how he ultimately realized that it was all for the good, that the hard times were for a specific purpose.

Group photo

And so after the game, when we posed for a group photo, I had this thought running through my mind:  Everyone here has their challenges; everyone here has their own personal Egypt, their own enslavements.  The hardworking cops, the BC Wheelchair Basketball volunteers and team members, and our beautiful students, all smiling together in the above photo, all share something in common, and that is that each has their own unique challenges and things that can hold them back, while each also holds the key to learning how and knowing how to move forward and succeed.

Life is hard.  And there are dark times.  Learning how to find inspiration and how to be resilient in the face of challenging times is what will ultimately define many of us.  Knowing how to place the hard times in perspective, and to recognize the role of those hard times in our lives is one of the keys to understanding ourselves.  It most certainly has defined us as a people over the centuries and has helped us to thrive, not just survive.  A people that has gone through so much has become a people that by necessity can share empathy and healing, goodness and godliness with others, and fully understands its mission and responsibility in this world.

I bless us all with being able to learn how to be resilient in the face of hard times, with learning how to set ourselves free, and, like Amanda Yan, to know how to use that to inspire others and make this world a brighter place.

Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach, and we will see you all in in two weeks.  Enjoy your break and get some well deserved rest!

Mar Abba

 

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