Caring for Wounded Soldiers in Israel
by Sarah Ann Haves
Israel is in the midst of celebrating the High Holy Days. It begins with the Feast of Trumpets, also called the Jewish civil new year of Rosh Hashanah. This is followed by the Ten Days of Awe when Jews traditionally recite the Slichot Prayers and repent of their sins at the Western Wall and in synagogues throughout the land. Then comes the day of national repentance on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. There are three days to build a succa, and the week celebration of the Feast of Succot (Tabernacles) begins. The autumn holidays culminate on Simchat Torah, as Jews dance with the Torah scrolls, rejoicing in God’s Word, and in the new year of 5778.
Particularly, at this time of year, the Israeli people reach out with compassion and care towards one another. In the malls and on the streets there are efforts by Jewish non-profit organizations to encourage the public to give offerings for the needs of their fellow men. Other Israelis support causes directly, acting as philanthropists, hosting events involving large amounts of private donations.
Nowhere was that more evident, recently, than in the southern city of Eilat where 500 Israeli soldiers wounded in Israel’s wars, terrorist attacks, and army accidents, gathered at a local hotel to enjoy a vacation together right before the holidays began.
Paid for by a private donor with the help of his friends, and organized by volunteers, this yearly trip to Eilat offers men and women, who have been injured while in the IDF, the opportunity to meet each other and share their stories. Bet Halochem, an organization that serves Israel’s wounded, has branches throughout the country, and stays in touch with soldiers after they get out of the hospital and during their recovery process. When an event like this one happens, Bet Halochem volunteers call every newly wounded soldier and invite them to participate. Transportation is arranged and a three night four day stay at a hotel is provided. This includes meal service throughout the day, the best musical entertainment in Israel, and field tours. The soldiers get a chance to swim in the Red Sea and relax on the seashore. Back at the hotel, they can enjoy the pool, or play chess, or participate in other activities as a way of interacting and getting to know one another on a deeper level.
While the private donor did not want his name to be mentioned, so that nothing would affect his philanthropy efforts, he was willing to be interviewed by this writer. He told the story of how this outreach in Israel began. He met a wounded soldier in 1982 and gave him $500. The soldier walked away without thanking him. Later on, the soldier came back and told the private donor, you should be thanking me; you felt good when you gave me the money. This was a true statement and a turning point in this donor’s life when he realized he would eventually devote a good amount of his time to serving Israel’s soldiers. He started his outreach in 1993, buying 35 hotel rooms to host newly wounded soldiers for the first vacation weekend in Eilat.
He explained what inspired his first initial efforts. “There is a story about a bus which transported soldiers in Lebanon. It got hit by a missile. There were a lot of wounded and some dead. Somebody came up with the idea that maybe we should bring the wounded soldiers together; even some of the mothers who lost their children so they could re-live their children through the ones who are alive. And, it went very well. Since then, it has grown and grown.”
|Bet Halochem’s outreach
has been going on
for 24 years.
Because of Israel’s continued conflicts with its enemies, every year there are newly injured soldiers. Bet Halochem identifies who they are, and the private donor hosts the soldiers for the weekend getaway, along with some of the veteran soldiers who have been on the trip before. This assures that the newly wounded will be encouraged by walking through their suffering and pain with their already battle-scarred comrades.
The private donor, and his friends who are paying for the event, buy up all the rooms in the hotel. This allows every soldier to participate in activities, without hesitation, knowing that those in their environment are also experiencing some kind of disability. It provides an atmosphere of trust. According to the donor, “If you see a girl with two legs missing, she feels at home when she is in the pool with people who are also injured.”
The outreach has been going on for 24 years. The donor explains, “There are some of them that are from the north and some from the south. They would never have a chance of opportunity to meet. They meet, they talk. They have a support group. They go away together. There is a lot of history between them. So, it helps.”
The private donor said that, so far, five couples have married after meeting each other on one of the yearly weekend getaways. “One is divorced. And, four are still married. That is not the purpose of it all. The purpose of it all is they come here, they feel at home, they enjoy themselves.”
Ogen Drori is a wounded soldier who has come to the Eilat weekend gatherings for the past eight years. He has been wounded three times while serving in the IDF. After his first year in the army he was injured in a training exercise. On January 19, 1997, he fell two floors to the ground. There was a metal stick there that went inside his back. He spent six months in a wheel chair and another year getting around with crutches. After that, he was back on his feet, working and feeling good.
In 2002, Drori volunteered in the reserve army. There was an IDF operation in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). He was injured in a booby trap when shrapnel hit his face.
About 1.5 months after that, there was a terrorist suicide car bombing near a bus in the area of Megiddo. Many Israelis were killed. Drori explains he was in the reserve army, and on that day, stopped at a red traffic light on the road, when the bomb went off. “I was a medic and I had my stuff with me. My father was with me. He was an officer in the police. So, we went to help over there… Then, the gasoline of the bus exploded.” Drori was injured in the fire. He and his father helped the other wounded people. And, then he went to the hospital.
|When I asked him how
long it took to recover,
he said he is still recovering.
When I asked him how long it took him to recover, he told me he is still recovering. In 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016 he had surgeries. His surgeries were mainly to repair his back and one of his legs, and he lost his permanent teeth that were replaced.
He believes that the weekend getaways for the injured soldiers provide Israelis with an opportunity to stop working, renew their strength, see friends, smile, and relax. “You need to stop sometimes. This gives you a break. This is the stop that you need, to fill you up, to talk to people that you haven’t seen; you haven’t had time to see them because of wherever life has taken you”
The hotel provides a secure environment so that Israel’s wounded soldiers can fully express themselves. Those who are injured that have scars can go to the pool and not have a child point at them and ask questions. Drori says, “Not everyone likes to talk about it; not everybody likes to show it. Here, they feel free because nobody looks at them.”
The soldiers come happily by bus, plane and car to get to the Eilat hotel. Drori elaborates, “It’s all of us together, from all of Bet Halochem. It is not just in the hospital. It’s another involvement. It’s vacation.”
A vacation provided by private donors who do this from their hearts. One of the volunteers admitted that there is a sense of something good being accomplished, “Our success is their smiles.”
As I looked around the hotel, I could see the interaction and the fun that the soldiers were having. This was obviously a successful weekend, and there were many relaxed Israelis who seemed content despite their pain. A moment in time when they could forget their injuries and just enjoy the atmosphere in being together and getting to know one another.
“I will give those who are weary all they need. I will refresh everyone who is filled with sorrow.” Jeremiah 31:25 (God’s Word Translation)
(c) 2017 Messianic Vision all rights reserved. This article is not reproducible except with permisson from Messianic Vision.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.