As a strictly Orthodox Jew, the paralympic skier Sheina Vaspi was relieved when she obtained a religious exemption to compete in the Beijing Paralympics while wearing a skirt. But when one of the events she had qualified for was rescheduled for Saturday of last week, Vaspi chose to forfeit her spot so as not to violate the Sabbath. Despite this disappointment, as David Waldstein writes in a profile of Vaspi, she is grateful to have “made history [as] the first Israeli to participate in the Winter Paralympic Games.”
“It is very important for me to represent my country the best I can,” Vaspi said, “especially because I did not go into the army. My grandfather died in one of the wars that Israel had and my uncle fell in one of the wars, too. I feel very, very proud to be the first Israeli to represent the country in the Paralympics.”
Military service is compulsory in Israel, but Vaspi was excused because she lost a leg in a car accident when she was ten. She said that perhaps the attention she will garner from competing in the Beijing Games will open the gates for other Israeli athletes, many who never considered the possibility of competing until her breakthrough.
Vaspi, twenty, grew up in the north of Israel, where skiing is a rare adventure for a lucky few, available on one mountain for two or three weeks a year, depending on the weather. As a girl, she could see Mount Hermon from her home, but never dreamed of skiing it.
But then one day, when she was fifteen, the Erez Foundation, which assists soldiers and children with special needs, . . . invited her to ski. Vaspi was uncertain about accepting, until her father, a farmer, religious teacher, and tour guide in Africa, showed her a video of people doing “crazy things” on the slopes.
“I said, ‘Yes, I want that,’” Vaspi said in English.