Averbach, himself a victim of a terror attack, is upbeat about the prospect of inspiring people to help him meet the organization’s goals. With 8,000 victims of terror since ‘000, there are 360 children enrolled in the Tikvah program, with more than 150 on the waiting list. He needs to raise enough money for equipment and therapists to accommodate as many kids as they can.
Steve Averbach with his family in Bergen County
"After the Lebanon intervention," said Averbach, "we have to figure out how many children need to be added to the program…. We don’t know the numbers yet, but we know we need to raise enough money to bring everyone in."
Averbach, who will speak at the JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on Sunday, Oct. ‘9, at 7 p.m., told The Jewish Standard that helping the traumatized children is the only reason he would make the tough 1’-hour flight from Tel Aviv to New York a trip people complain about even when they aren’t confined to a wheelchair, as he is. "And if we reach our goal, it will be absolutely worth it," he said.
He has been working with the Maccabi World Union for nine months, and his task has given him a direction and sense of purpose.
"Project Tikvah is much more than physical rehabilitation," he said. "It’s about bringing the kids back into society to a point where they can begin to function again emotionally, too."
Born and raised in New Jersey, Averbach made aliyah ‘0 years ago and is an Israel Defense Forces veteran, former police officer, and a terrorism expert. He was riding the No. 6 bus in Jerusalem three years ago, when it was boarded by a suicide bomber dressed like a chasid. Averbach was suspicious and started to grapple with the man just as he blew himself up. Seven people were killed, ‘0 were injured, and ‘5 were saved but Averbach suffered a severe spinal cord injury and became a quadraplegic.
Honored as a hero by the government of Israel, to many people, including his sister Elaine Sapadin of Englewood, he is now more of a hero than ever. He served in the Golani Brigade, in Gaza and Lebanon; he worked in the antiterrorism unit in the Jerusalem Police Department and was a private weapons instructor with his own security training school. But traveling around the world to raise money for victims of terror in his condition is the toughest job he ever had, and by all accounts he does it with high spirits and determination.
Sapadin told the Standard, "My brother has transformed the devastation of a horrific incident into a positive force to really make a difference in this world. He proves that the evil plans of those who seek to destroy us will be confronted and challenged…. Steve has to be a stronger fighter now than he was before, and he’s not giving up; he is forcing others to take action, and he’s had a dramatic affect on my own life and perspective. I love and respect him now more than ever."
Averbach talks freely about the challenges of life as a quadriplegic, describing the overwhelming physical and emotional issues that can eat away at a person’s spirit. When he champions the children whose lives have been dramatically altered by terrorism, he aims to convey how great their needs are and how important it is to find the funding to help them recover their lives and realize their potential. The JCC on the Palisades event is the highlight of his trip, and everyone is encouraged to attend. (He’ll also speak to the students at Torah Academy of Bergen County in Teaneck and at Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly. Other spots are Philadelphia, Deal, Alberon, Larchmont, and Manhattan, and he was on "JM in the AM" last Wednesday morning.)
Project Tikvah allows applicants to choose from a list of sports, including but not limited to fitness training, horseback riding, sailing, cycling, swimming, and waterskiing. Trained volunteers are charged with helping the participants to overcome their fear, regain their confidence, and believe in themselves.
Maccabi World Union was founded in Germany in 1895, is active in 50 countries, and has approximately 400,000 members. It sponsors local and regional games and are best known for the quadrennial Maccabiah games, which bring Jews from around the world to compete in Israel.
For information, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.maccabiworld.org