"Reality as a father to a child with special needs added to him": Ofir Haim's wife in an emotional interview

Last Tuesday, she sat across from me in such a cafe, and I immediately understood how this very complicated event managed to hold its own for so many years. Her husband, Ofir Haim , the coach of Israel's youth soccer team, was thousands of kilometers away from her – in La Plata In Argentina, he is busy making final preparations for the semi-final match against Uruguay.

It was a little after 10 in the morning, and even though the home of the Haim family rests on her shoulders, Orli Haim is sitting here to tell the story of her life. Distilled, without filters, almost unthinkable. In three hours, two of their three children, the 17-and-a-half-year-old son Gal and the daughter Shai, who is two years younger than him, will leave for the airport, on their long way to Argentina, to meet father Ofir, who is there on his life's mission.

When did you know they were going there?

"After the victory in the quarter-finals over Brazil. They didn't really let me watch the game with them. They have established the belief that I am a kind of manchus, and I cannot be with them during the game. So I went to the neighbors next door, and I saw there. It was clear to me that Ophir really wanted them to come and be with him. It's not easy, because they're still small, but my dad made the deal and all the connecting flights through Frankfurt. He sends my brother and Gal's girlfriend with them. They, Gal and Noya, were supposed to fly to Greece in honor of Noya's birthday, but they canceled and went to the game, and now it's a whole bunch, because my sister's son also joined, and Ofir's sister and her son, who asked for it as a bar mitzvah gift. Full of procedures from moment to moment, including a notary's signature, because these are minors who are leaving the country without their parents, and to close an Air B&B apartment, and a bus from Buenos Aires to La Plata, which is an hour and a half away."

And amidst all the blitz, the media hype and the hoo-ha surrounding the U20 team, which has been intensifying in the last month, Orly remains here, watching from afar, steering her and her husband Ofir's family ship, making sure not to run aground, and allowing her husband to continue climbing to the top, a scenario that No one imagined that it could exist, a long dream that has lasted for almost a year. It started at the European Under-19 Championship, where Israel reached the final in an incredible and unprecedented manner, where they lost to England, and continued last month at the Under-20 World Cup.

שחקני נבחרת ישראל (צילום: אתר רשמי, אסי קיפר, אתר ההתאחדות לכדורגל)
Israel national team players (photo: official website, Assi Kiefer, website of the Football Association)

The interview with Orly was conducted even before the loss in the semi-finals against Uruguay, but by then the team had managed to recover from the loss in the opening game against Colombia, beat Japan in the final minutes after a change with ten players, beat Uzbekistan in injury time and stun Brazil in a crazy game. In the end, this tournament ended with great success – with a victory in the third place match against South Korea and winning the bronze medal.

And you accompany all this goodness from afar, not there, not near Ophir.
"Only when it's all over and looking from the outside, I'll understand what was there and I'll probably be upset. It was clear that I would experience everything from a distance, there was no hesitation at all, because there is no other option. That's life. This silence of Ofir, that he knows that Or is with me, gives him a lot, but it is happiness that the two children go there to him."

When Orli talks about "this is life", and that dreams of a three-week vacation in Thailand will remain only dreams at the moment, she refers to their eldest son Or, 22 years old, autistic, whose functional condition, especially in the last year, is very delicate: "The situation with Or is very deceptive. On the one hand On the other hand, he speaks, is intelligent and communicates, and on the other hand, he has a challenging behavior.

He is unaware of the dangers, and can be dangerous to himself. For this situation of his, in this functional profile – the state has no answer, and we found ourselves without a framework for him since he finished his framework in 'Shekmim'. The state is ending its obligation to provide an educational framework until the age of 21. The transition from 'wealthy' to welfare is a big boom for the child and the family. It's broken. We had the experience of taking it out into some kind of framework, but this field is hacked. Our families are a great wallet for many charlatans, who can't really leave children with them. Orr was in a frame where it was clear that he was being held tight, but while they were on patrol, he ran away and started running down a main road and lay down on the asphalt as cars drove around him. Then they called me and told me what was going on, and it was lucky that Ophir was in the area and flew to him, and saw him and lay down on him and cried his life out."

It is terrible. The state stops providing a framework, and drops everything on the families.
"Families are falling apart because of this. There is a large fracture and there is no frame or adjustment to the condition. I am, by my qualification, an art therapist, but I went on an unusual sabbatical, and for the past six months I have been literally besieged at home, because Orr received drug treatment six months ago which caused a reaction. All these past months I, and other parents who are in a similar situation with our children, have been trying to build a meaningful framework, a home for life for him and young people like him. There is a crazy complex in Sderot, and I and other parents want to copy this model to Rishon Lezion. This is the bright spot, otherwise I'll collapse. We live in Rishon Lezion, a city that is very supportive and budget-friendly, but the type of housing that Or and his ilk need already requires state intervention."

She is 45 years old, three years younger than Ofir. They knew each other through a mutual company, and to this day there is a debate as to who actually started with whom. Ofir claims that she started with him, and that she wanted him because he is a soccer player who earns well: "Well, the man played in the Ness Ziona section, which sometimes, as a substitute for money, arranged a car stereo for him. So don't take him seriously," she responds and laughs.

She studied for a bachelor's degree in education, and there was an agreement between them when they got married four years after they met – that she would not change her plans to work, study and develop. In this world of football, the economic pyramid of the household is a bit different from the norm. It is precisely at a young age that you earn a lot and the money is available, and only at an advanced age do things become more complex.

Orly and Ofir met when he was 20 and a half years old and she was 17. She remembers her husband as a special, sensitive guy, who connects with everyone: "He was always loved everywhere, and when he was an actor, he also got along great with the foreign actors, helped them acclimate, and they were Come to us for Shabbat meals. Today when I see his connection to the players on the national team, I understand and know that his reality as the father of a child with special needs has added to his DNA, and the most significant thing it has given him is the ability to see and understand each player in his most personal aspect, and to build such a fabric in the national team, which solves and overcomes every Time for problems, as it should be handled in front of light."

אורלי ואופיר חיים (צילום: ארכיון משפחתי)
Orly and Ofir Haim (photo: family archive)

Much is said about Ophir's emotional abilities, he is a motivator.
"It is a huge mistake to talk about him only as a motivator. In general, respect should be earned and not demanded. Respect for him is built in, built in. There are almost no disciplinary problems, and there are no intrigues in his dressing room. He knows how to recognize the crises when they are small and gives a response even to the party that feels hurt by his decisions. I remember throughout his years as a coach, even before this team, phone calls or messages and calls from parents of players, who complain that the child does not play or does not enter the squad. Phones at any possible hour of the day and night, literally across borders. He always knew how to be assertive on the one hand, and still end conversations with 'Shabbat Shalom', without messing up."

Ofir grew up in the youth department of Maccabi Tel Aviv, but as a mature player, his first team was Aroni Rishon Lezion. From there he moved to Maccabi Jaffa, where he was the top scorer with 26 goals, which helped Jaffa advance to the first league. The success brought him back to Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he didn't leave his mark and moved to Hapoel Be'er Sheva, where he became a professional anchor and crowd favorite. 19 years ago he was even the top scorer in the Super League, with 16 goals (jointly with Shay Holtzman). So much so that he connected with Be'er Seventy, that a large delegation of about a hundred fans of the team arrived at the training ground of Maccabi Tel Aviv, and asked the club's leaders, literally begged, to approve the continuation of his loan.

Orli talks about the life that changed after the birth of Or. In retrospect, she says that there were signs that could have taught about his condition, but she was a young woman of 22 and a half years old and did not understand that the warning lights should be turned on: "From watching the tapes, until the age of eight months, they don't recognize anything. There were small difficulties that we did not know how to give them a title. He did not respond to his name, there was no understanding of simple things – a dog, light – milestones in development. Ofir's mother took care of Or at that time, she had experience, and from her point of view the situation seemed reasonable to her. Maybe she, like all of us, activated some kind of denial mechanism. At the age of one and seven months, I knew something was wrong, but I didn't imagine autism. I told Ofir that I give the child two months of acclimatization in kindergarten before we move forward."

And what was it?
"The kindergarten was a disaster. We didn't know he was suffering so much. Light would go under the table and not come out. After a few weeks the kindergarten teacher came to us and said we should take him for a hearing test because he is not responding to the activity around him. So much so that I didn't think the incident was complicated, that I went to the psychological diagnosis with Or without Ophir. I thought it would end in therapy and occupation for a while, and that's it. In the test there were three parameters that he did not pass. Language is an important thing at that age, but he lacked basic gestures. There was no eye contact or follow up after voting. He did not vote himself, but took my hand and voted with it. Here's the failure, because he doesn't understand that I'm an external being from him."

The test took place around Autism Awareness Day, and Orly was exposed to the many articles on the subject: "And I'm reading and the screen falls on me. This is me and this is exactly what my child is experiencing, and I go in and read and write. In the evening Ofir returned from training. He then played in Be'er Sheva. The computer was open on the DSM, which is an American book that contains, among other things, diagnoses in child development. I tell him 'sit and look, this is what the light has', and Ofir looks at me and shouts 'autism? You talk nonsense, it's because you know and read too much.' I got into bed and out of the corner of my eye I see him sitting on the computer reading, then he calls his mother and cries his life out. Everything was suddenly so clear, and from here life changes."

The excellent season in Be'er Sheva arranged for Ofir a two-year contract in the Turkish Istanbulspor. Or had been diagnosed as autistic only a year earlier, and it was impossible, amid all the diagnoses and treatments, for Orli and Or to join Ofir. He was there alone, but the huge difficulty at home, and the emotional burden on him, interrupted the international dream after six months, and he returned to Israel.

Her husband did not have a bright coaching career until the fantastic success with the national team. At the end of 2016, he was relegated with Maccabi Shaareim to League A, moved to Hapoel Afula, with whom he achieved a historic title – the Toto Cup of the National League, replaced Kobi Yarofa at the end of 2018 at Hapoel Tel Aviv and was fired by himself after seven games. Then he moved to coach at Hapoel Kfar Saba and went up a league with her in a tremendous sporting finish.

The great rapprochement between Ofir and the Light took place during the Corona period. The family was always together. Orly then had to undergo a medical procedure, and Ofir was now at the forefront of treating his first son. She testifies: "Ofir worked hard to create this connection. It's not a normal situation that a father brings his son a diesel from the mall and it ends with 'Abush Toda'. It was very difficult for Ophir. For a long time he did not resolve with himself the reconciliation with Or's situation. They went through treatment together. You see, this is a teenage boy, and things happen that you are exposed to and need to understand. And out of this lack of choice came a lot of good. He works hard to create a connection, and hence the understanding of the importance of the public exposure of this disability of Or."

It doesn't happen often that coaches at an advanced stage of their gray career get a big professional turn, a hug and real national attention, as Ofir experienced in the last year. I told Orly, and she laughed and agreed, that the new quality around him is the interview that he gave from Argentina to Leonie Levy in the main edition of eight in the evening, after the victory over Brazil. The significant exposure was in that same video during the European Championship last summer, in which he brought up Or and asked him to bless him before a game, after which Ofir, because of the exciting reactions he was flooded with, was already ALL IN in terms of revealing their family story. Along with the tremendous achievement in the European Championship, second place on the continent, the exposure was already viral, and they received strong reactions of sympathy from the general public, and of course also from parents in their situation who sympathized with them.

Someone sent Orly a particularly moving message that really put a mirror in her eyes: "He is the brother of an autistic girl, and he talked about his anxieties about what will happen when his parents are no longer here, and the responsibility for his sister will pass to him. Ophir also received a lot of responses and requests, and I say to myself, if we, who are connected, are facing such a great difficulty, what are others going through."

And when you look at Ofir's career, do you think that this team is just a stage in his career on the way to coaching top teams in the Premier League? Maybe a mature team? Or should he focus on what he is good at and skilled at – working with young players, who have not yet been exposed to the much more complex world of teenage footballers?

"It is clear to me that this team is a stunning stage in his development. They made a serious revolution, and his work there gave him a lot in his toolbox. But the ambition is to move forward, good teams in the Super League, maybe work abroad, which will be possible thanks to our Orr Foundation, which is the same 'home for life' that will be built and Orr can live there. Everything is open. Ofir has developed in recent years, he believes in himself, and in his heart There is this thought of closing a circle as a coach at Maccabi Tel Aviv or Be'er Sheva."

Everly, Orli has managed the chameleon around their son, and defines it as a life project. Ofir himself was distant and it took him years to come to terms with the diagnosis. She was recruited and Ofir looked for any way to suppress, to escape and also to play, to bring in good money that would allow for the whole range of treatments, which only For which they paid about NIS 10,000 per month.

It was clear to Orly and Laufir that they would not be left with one child. This is despite the fact that social networks developed then, and they were exposed to a lot of material and stories, and realized that there are precedents where there is more than one autistic child in the family. The anxiety does not end at the birth stage. It is about two years of anxiety until the child speaks, until he makes eye contact, until he responds.

And in the midst of this whole operation, the two younger brothers, Gal and Shai, who were born to this situation and knew nothing else, also grew up. Orli says that in the first years, when they were young, everything was easier, because the children didn't really understand the situation, and she and Ofir tried to maintain a normal home as much as possible: "We went on trips, to picnics, at meetings we didn't hide Or. What's more, every picnic is a significant operation, and you need to organize yourself with games and tasks. The difficulty with Gal and Shay became significant in their teenage years, when they experienced how other homes were run.

They expressed their frustration and anger, but they also understood through us that this would not change reality, and that we would have to live together as much quality time as possible. I know there is no such thing as a perfect home anywhere, and our experience allows us to raise children with values even though I was not always completely with them because of Or's needs, but for them it is a school of life, children with high emotional intelligence, quiet and positive leaders. Proud of them."

The last six months have been difficult and complex for the Haim family. A combination of two drugs Or received caused a collision and a particularly severe reaction. At the end of January, Or was hospitalized for five days in an Etanim hospital, and continued to be hospitalized at home, while Ophir has to continue his work with the national team as usual, and continue preparations for the Mondialeto. Orli was then on the brink: "You also have two other children and you can't go out at all for whole days. Ofir is abroad and I can't bring anyone home. My parents, my sister, Rahli, Ofir's sister – no one moves away from me, but in the midst of all this my father is undergoing a catheterization, and in the end you feel alone."

At the end of last November, when Ofir was abroad with the team in the qualifiers for the European Championship, Laor had a violent outburst, and Orly says that if she hadn't called the neighbor and called him – she doesn't know what would have happened: "I asked myself if I should tell Ofir, but I chose not to tell In the end, we established a family in the HML house, which I will not be alone for a second. A minute after the last match in the qualifiers, I called Bonnie Ginzburg, the team's technical director, and told him I wasn't interested, he was putting Ofir on the first plane to Israel, and that he would return even without the players. And Bonnie was 100% and took care of it."

Even when there is no Mondialeto or games on the agenda, working as a coach of a young team is a full time job, with no possibility of secondary or side jobs. Orli says that even when Ofir coached in the league, he didn't work as intensively as he does today: meetings, presentations, building training sets, tracking players. There is never a dull moment.

Throughout the last tournament, Orly and Ofir barely spoke. Ophir's workload and the time difference took their toll. "He texts me, 'Are you available for a chat?', and I tell him that I'm in the middle of a Tacky tournament with Or, and Or interjects and says, 'Father won't disturb you now, let him go to sleep,'" she says.

אופיר חיים (צילום: דני מרון)
Ofir Haim (Photo: Danny Maron)

Is this the longest time Ophir hasn't been with Or?
"Until he comes back, it will be the longest time. It will be difficult for Ofir when he returns, because the physical distance creates problems, but in the end it will work out."

What does Or understand from all the huge commotion surrounding his father?
"Petty. I think that at the beginning of the championship he didn't exactly understand or be interested in the event itself, but against Brazil something happened that I hadn't seen before. He didn't go to sleep and sat in front of the TV until the end of the game, even though he's on medication that kills him. He was sitting with Gal and during Brazil's attack, Or suddenly says 'Grandma Rina (Ofir's late mother – AP), please let there not be a goal'…". I don't know anything about what he has in his heart and mind, but in victory there were screams and I jumped with him to the 'waiter', which is my brother's pub. Family and friends were there, and light was what Mesut is."

Last Friday, right after the semifinal loss to Uruguay, I called her again. Her life oscillates between two extremes: on the one hand, she wanted her husband to go as far as possible, and on the other hand, she wanted him already at home. Still, she was alone at the front, and needed some quiet to herself.

How will you make yourself quiet?
"My feet are firmly on the ground, but I want to fly. Three days in Tel Aviv. That would be wow. My father lives there, and I need a beach and quiet. I can't really stay away, but it's a lot now."

How did Gal and Shay react to the loss?
"Obviously they wanted a much happier script, but listen, they're very mature. I wanted to prepare them for the media that will surely talk and try to dub them, this is the added value of the unconventional life for better or for worse. I wanted to prepare them for the fact that when you're already famous and suddenly there's less success, there can also be negative reactions, and that's just background noise."

How disappointed were they?
"They were disappointed, because they wanted the whole celebration. They kept repeating that they were so proud of their father's and the team's path. on the determination. They had a chill in the stadium before the game. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to realize that all this did not happen by luck, but on a crazy journey. We all wanted a little more and a little more, but the general feeling is one of great pride."

And since you are in their eyes, and you couldn't watch the games with them, where and how did you see the game against Uruguay?
"Want to hear a piece? As part of this, I imposed a media silence on myself, and rejected requests from Sport 5 and hence 11, because I don't have cameras at home, and they wanted me to speak in zoom, and I said 'no zoom because I'm close to the light', in the first half I was still at a Bar Mitzvah with Or. We only arrived in the second half, and I really don't see continuously."

And light see? Did you understand the event?
"He understands that there is a game, but because in the previous game there was a feature and the commotion at home with Gal Shay and friends, he sat with them and did not move. This time it was just me and him, and he felt the vibe less. The truth is that he was sitting in front of the TV and I was in the garden, and in the 70th minute he simply asked to go to sleep because he was tired. So he understands and doesn't understand if he asked to go to bed in the 70th minute."

Did you talk to Ophir after the game?
"Probably. It took him a while to speak. Look, whoever wins says it's really amazing, but can't be happy that he lost. But after this night, and I don't know how long he slept, he also manages to look at the big, good picture."

There were a lot of highs this month. Talk to me about them.
"When Gal told Ofir what Or said about his mother, grandmother Rina, during the match against Brazil, and when Ofir dedicated this victory to Gal and Shay. You don't know how much it was worth to them. Like 20 psychological treatments."

Wait, and who won Taki, you or Or?
"Light, light is tearing me apart. Or doesn't want to play with Ophir either, because he caught him. Ofir is a winner and a rival even with his children to win. He tricks Or in order to win, and Or says 'I don't want to play with dad, dad cheats, he doesn't know how to lose with dignity'."


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