Supporting Israel Defense Forces soldiers injured in the Gaza war is a daunting task. But one organization is finding a way to help by recruiting previously wounded army veterans who know what it’s like to fight through emotional trauma and arduous rehabilitation.
Shachar, a 32-year-old reservist from a paratrooper unit, lies in a hospital bed, recalling the incident in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip that killed his buddy and filled his legs with shrapnel, as Gal Rosenberg, a volunteer from Belev Echad, who was once wounded in battle, listened attentively.
Belev Echad, a New York-based nonprofit, supports IDF soldiers wounded in action, providing respite, rehabilitation and emotional support to those grappling with the psychological aftermath of warfare and trauma.
Shachar’s unit was assigned to clear out a multi-story building housing terrorists.
“The first floor of the building had four open apartments and two locked ones. My unit was instructed to investigate why these apartments were locked. We split into two, and my buddy and I took up positions beside a window. We realized too late that it had been boobytrapped,” Shachar said.
“The bomb exploded; the unit commander and one of his men were both killed, and the rest of us were injured seriously from shrapnel. I was thrown backward 10 feet and suffered serious injuries to my legs. The terrorists opened fire, but our forces fought back and eliminated them. The survivors of our unit were helicoptered to Beilinson Hospital,” he continued.
“Already on the day I was admitted, I was met by Belev Echad volunteers who were there to offer me support, encouragement and a gift card. I was very moved by the care and sensitivity that the volunteers showed me, and their help has been very significant, giving me strength during what’s going to be a very long road to recovery and normal life. The hug that I received from Belev Echad and the nonstop giving and commitment is a bright ray of light in a long, dark tunnel,” said Shachar.
“We meet wounded soldiers in the hospital, visit them, offer them physical, emotional and financial support,” said Rabbi Uriel Vigler, who co-founded Belev Echad with his wife, Shevy. “Now, with the war, we’re working on many fronts simultaneously, both in Israel and the United States, fundraising, sending care packages to soldiers and reservists, and sponsoring therapies.”
The organization has created a multifaceted system that provides extensive emotional support and builds on the soldier’s skills and hobbies to prompt him or her to success. Belev Echad adopts each wounded soldier individually and assumes the roles of mentor, advocate and friend, guiding them through critical medical, educational and professional decisions and celebrating life’s milestones.
One of the mentors is Or Porat, who served in the army’s elite Duvdevan Unit. He was nearly killed six years ago when a terrorist threw a grenade at him.
After a long and grueling rehabilitation process, accompanied by Belev Echad, Porat is back on his feet, giving back by visiting hospitals and offering soldiers encouragement, hope and hugs. Since the Oct. 7 Hamas onslaught on Israel, he’s been giving lots of hugs.
“In the past three months, I’ve met with soldiers who’ve refused to speak to anyone after the horrors they endured. These guys are injured, traumatized, devastated. They feel like their world has come to an end,” Porat said.
“But when I come along with the Belev Echad guys, they open up. I explain to them that I was there too. I show them my battle scars and pictures of what I looked like while I was in bed for months, and they’re amazed. Sometimes, they don’t believe me, but then they start asking questions. They share their feelings, and they start realizing that there is a way. It helps them a lot, and it helps me too. I feel like I’ve come full circle.”
Neria, a 32-year-old reservist wounded in action, is recovering at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital).
“It had been two full days of intense fighting in Gaza,” he said. “I went outside for a minute to wash my face. We were sure that the area had been cleared of terrorists, but out of nowhere, two terrorists appeared and shot me in the leg.”
Other soldiers immediately killed the terrorists.
“The next thing I knew, I’d been evacuated to the hospital and undergone surgery on my leg and a catheterization. I still need a whole series of surgery, and it’s going to be a long road to recovery,” Neria said. “The guys from Belev Echad gave me a lot of strength, a lot of hope. Hearing their stories and seeing how they recovered and returned not only to life, but also to helping other people is really inspiring.”
Many hospitalized soldiers have received MacBooks, PlayStations, Apple watches and more to help them pass the time.
“In many cases, we’ve received requests directly from the doctors to buy a PlayStation or computer for a wounded soldier because it can be very useful in supporting his recovery and helping him exercise parts of his body that were injured,” said Belev Echad’s program director Sharon Shtrachman.
According to IDF figures, more than 6,125 soldiers, reservists and members of the Israel Police have been wounded in action fighting Hamas terrorists since Oct. 7.