Israel Sport Center for the Disabled raises spirits and changes lives
BY KARIE LUC For Sun-Times Media
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Karie Luc is with Lori Komisar and Stu Nitzkin in Winnetka as they explain the philanthropic mission of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled.
Lori Komisar of Winnetka, and longtime supporter of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (ISCD), is a philanthropist who prefers staying behind the scenes. Going about her day with cell phone handy, her calls are frequent. Often, Morrie Silverman, her life partner, gives her a shout.
Walking the grounds of her riparian residence, Komisar is used to having a cell phone glued to her ear. As landscapers work, Komisar artfully navigates a mower’s path.
Poise and grace are mandatory within shouting distance of Lake Michigan.
“That was Morrie,” said Komisar, with a smile, finishing a conversation before besting ravine steps to a private patio overlooking her backyard.
Silverman, also a supporter of numerous charitable causes, equally prefers to go about his work quietly. The two would prefer deserving children be featured on the society pages.
The mission of the ISCD, the only service provider of its kind in the world, prompted Komisar to grant a rare interview.
The conversation with Komisar took place on a spectacular early autumn morning. Her backyard is a Lake Michigan beach.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Komisar said. “I do feel fortunate I live in this environment but I have to say, it doesn’t define me.”
What does define her, she said: “It’s a smile on a face; it’s a medal on a kid.”
Stuart Nitzkin, who serves as national executive director for the American Friends of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled (AFISCD), accompanied Komisar.
“The center is a place, in my opinion, that God kissed and never left,” said Komisar, gesturing with her left hand to demonstrate a higher power’s path.
“That’s how I feel about the center,” said Komisar. “For me, it’s totally emotion.”
Nitzkin, known as Stu to colleagues, is proud of the ISCD, located in Ramat Gan, Israel.
“We head up the American Friends of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled,” he said. “Our responsibility is to raise as much money as possible to help the 3,000 kids who go through the center each year.”
“Of those 3,000 kids, some have been born with a disability, a congenital disability like spina bifida or cerebral palsy; some have come to us via accidents or a terror attack, loss of limb or they’re paralyzed,” Nitzkin said.
The ISCD staff includes occupational therapists and social workers.
“The beauty of what they really do is they take these kids, and they don’t just physically rehabilitate them, but it’s the mental rehabilitation,” Nitzkin said. “It’s giving them some life, giving them the chance to succeed in their life, to make something of themselves and to contribute back to the society at large which is really special and unique.”
The ISCD opened in 1960, and it uses sports such as basketball to boost stamina and confidence.
“We like to say the center is performing miracles every day, it’s incredible,” Nitzkin said.
One teenager — Caroline Tabib of Israel — travels around the world as a table tennis champion and future Paralympic contender.
“What we do at the center builds a nation because, if you think about it, disability is looked at, in most places, as almost contagious,” Komisar said. “You know: you can’t get too close to it; it might rub off on you. You don’t know what to do; the people are different. But, at the center, everybody is the same.”
Children served often come of age while being mentored by the ISCD. Tabib, who has a spinal condition, started her ISCD journey as a 3-year-old.
“She’s never been out of a wheelchair. She sits very tall, has a face that lights up the room and really feels like she’s lucky,” said Komisar, of Tabib who is becoming a young adult.
Nitzkin believes all families with children turning the age of 13 can celebrate globally. The website — www.fiscd.org — features a Mitzvah Project option.
North Shore families have used bar/bat mitzvah parties to raise money for the ISCD. Some have gone as far as staging separate fundraisers such as basketball shoot-out tournaments.
“What I think a huge draw to a lot of these kids is they’re helping kids their age,” said Nitzkin, who says the AFISCD makes the bar/bat mitzvah charity process easy. “They can relate really well. That, ‘Wow, there’s someone just like me in Israel who’s in a wheelchair, that I can help.’”
“It’s some very cool stuff,” Nitzkin said. “I love knowing that we’re helping to make a difference in the world.”
Komisar summed it up with her perpetual smile.
“So that’s what it’s all about,” Komisar said. “It’s a beautiful world when you can do this.”
The American Friends of the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled is a registered nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization operating under Federal Tax ID #27-5126671.