A Multifaceted Torchbearer
At 46, I, Pascale Bercovitch, was surprised and honored to be chosen as one of the 14 women to light the torches at the Independence Day ceremony. I believe I was chosen because I represent many different faces – that of a mother, an athlete, a journalist, a wife, a filmmaker, a writer, and a motivational speaker. And importantly, as someone with a disability, I am proud to represent the whole country.
My journey began in France where at the age of 17, I lost both my legs in a train accident. But just six months after having my legs amputated, my fighting spirit and passion for Israel led me to volunteer for the IDF.
“From the age of 15, I fell in love with the idea of a very small country with a very big vision… a country trying to be more clever, more equal and green than any other country.”
So in July 1985, I packed my bags and headed straight to the IDF. Despite not speaking the language and being physically weak, I started off in an office-based position in the IDF. Later, I became an instructor for Sar-El groups who come from abroad to volunteer in the army. This role empowered me and allowed me to give speeches to soldiers and immigrants about my life and what I had learned.
The army provided me with a meaningful learning curve in several ways. It was a place filled with warmth and opportunities for learning. I learned Hebrew, adapted to my new body, learned how to navigate with a wheelchair, and gained a deeper understanding of what this country is about. I also embraced the local culture, learning to enjoy hummus and oriental music. The army was an enriching place that gave me status and structure.
During my time in the army, I discovered my passion for swimming. My swimming coach, Margalit Zonenfeld, played a significant role in my aquatic sports career. She accompanied me throughout my journey and pushed me to join the national team. Through swimming, I was able to “come back to myself,” finding a sense of healing and self-discovery following the trauma of my loss. This experience further solidified my belief in the power of sports and the resilience of the human spirit.
Accessibility in Israel
Back then, Israel was far from wheelchair-friendly. But people helped me and improvised ramps everywhere. Today, Israel is changing the face of the country with respect to accessibility and quality of life for the disabled. I am part of a non-profit organization called Access Israel, which is dedicated to making Israel more accessible.
Always Optimistic, Strives Forward
I am always optimistic and strive forward in all aspects of my life. “There are many things that I cannot do, but I do the best I can. There is no limit.” Now, my dream is to establish a school for youth and adults, teaching people how to live better on a day-to-day basis – how to connect their body, soul and mind and for them to work together in harmony.
Israel’s inclusive environment has played a crucial role in my journey from being a Paralympic participant to becoming a medalist. As we look forward to Paris 2024, I am proud to be part of a nation that champions accessibility and inclusivity in sports. Israel serves as an inspiration for other countries around the world, demonstrating that with the right support and resources, athletes of all abilities can achieve remarkable feats.