Everybody falls; it’s how you get up that shows your character,” said Israeli Hanoch Budin, addressing an audience of parents, grandparents, and students at Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County. He made his presentation, “Turning a Disadvantage into an Advantage,” at the Marlboro school on April 2 in a program cosponsored by Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
In 1982, during Operation Peace for Galilee, Budin was serving in the Israeli army in Lebanon. On June 24 of that year, he was hit by a mortar. His right arm was amputated on the spot. “As a 20-year-old, you thought you were strong…invincible, and then your life was over in just 24 hours,” Budin told the gathering. He shared the approach that he said has helped him face the challenges of being a member of the disabled community. “We all have disadvantages — some minor, some major. Don’t hide from them; expose them, deal with it. When you see my disadvantage, you can see how great strength can be.”
As part of his rehabilitation, Budin said, he was encouraged to join a swim team for people with disabilities. He said he embraced the opportunity and went on to participate in six Paralympic games, winning eight medals, two of them Gold, and establishing two world records. When he broke his first record, he said, “That instant brought me back to 1982 when I thought my life was over.”
Israelis recognize him on the street, however, for his celebrity status outside of his 24-year career as a swimmer. He competed on the Israeli version of Survivor; his mission in going on the show, he said, was clear: “To prove that disabled people are abled.”
When SSDS parent Cantor Gabrielle Clissold of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls asked Budin, “If you could change back to before you had your injury, would you?” his response was, “You can’t turn back history. I am a better person than before. I would say no…. It was a great opportunity. It was a blessing — it was hard, it was painful — you don’t know what would have been.”