Operation Embrace Organizes Solidarity Mission After Rocket Attacks
At this time, I want to thank Operation Embrace and its very special social worker, Michal for organizing such a powerful and meaningful mission to visit the injured from the recent rocket attacks. Below is an overview of the second day of our mission.
11:00AM: We arrived at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. We first met David and his wife Miriam. A couple of weeks ago, a Grad rocket landed six meters away from him and he lost his right leg. Amazingly, only a couple of us in the group realized the extent of his injuries because he greeted us sitting up in a wheelchair, in a long hospital gown, with a gentle grin and an incredibly optimistic spirit. Every few minutes he would cry out, “Todah LaEl – Thanks to God!” He saw his loss only as a gift from God that he survived. He also shared with us that this was the third rocket God had spared him from – the first flew just over his head moments after he had moved his tractor into a ditch he was digging; the second brought a building down around him while he was working in its basement, but he was left unscathed. We came to bring comfort and strength to David, but we left uplifted ourselves. He led us in a boisterous “Am Yisrael Chai” tune, waving his hands in the air and clapping with joy. “We are a strong nation!” he shouted. As we left, several members of the group were shocked to learn that he only had one leg.
We visited next with Penina, a mother of four small children who works multiple jobs, including as a janitor at the central train station, to support her family. The terror of the kassam attacks has left her severely traumatized. During one of the air raid sirens, she panicked and pushed her way off the bus she was traveling in order to get to one of the roadside shelters. In her haste, she tripped and broke her ankle. She was sobbing when we walked into her room, crying out, “Who will take care of my children now?! Everything is on me!” And yet, she managed to draw strength and belief from a deep well within her, praising God that things were not worse, and asked us if we would sing with her an upbeat tune to “Shir HaMaalot!” A minute later, hospital staff came to move her to the ICU and she asked if we would come with us. There was one extra seat in the transport vehicle, so I hopped in with my guitar and we sang the song the whole way with a little extra help from the driver. What a sight it was for other hospital staff to see us flying by!
1:00PM: We stopped for a delicious shwarma lunch at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva to recharge after an emotional morning and then move on to Soroka Medical Center. We visited with the family of David I., a 40 year old man from Kiryat Malachi who has been in a coma for two weeks. His mother, Jaclyn, told us how he jumped from his car during an air raid siren to take cover on the roadside – this is the proper protocol when you are driving. However, another driver panicked and sped up hoping to outrace the rocket. David was accidentally struck and thrown in the air. He landed on his head, which resulted in serious brain trauma and his current comatose condition. His wife was not there when we arrived as she was out trying to take care of their two children – they have a 5 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. Our group took turns entering the ICU with protective clothing, davening at his bedside, and whispering words of support and love. As I stood by his bed, it was clear that David was a fit, strong man, but now he and his family are part of the untold story of the life-altering trauma and injury that so many Israeli families have experienced during this recent war.
Our final visit at Soroka was with Yehuda P.and his father Yisrael. Yehuda is 22 years old and served in the Gavit unit. Two weeks ago, his jeep was fired upon at close range by a bazooka while patrolling the Gaza border. Yehuda was asleep when we arrived. He face is entirely covered in shrapnel wounds and his eyelids have been sewn shut. He has certainly lost one of his eyes and only time will tell if he will ever regain partial vision in the other. He also has extensive head trauma and several massive indentations on his skull from the blast. Yehuda will live, but his life is forever changed. In the past few days, he has been able to rise from bed, eat, and walk a little bit around his room. Yehuda’s has four siblings (21, 15, 9, and 7 years old). After his first visit the 15 year old told his father that he couldn’t bear coming back to see his big brother in this condition. While Yehuda was still sleeping, we held a minyan for mincha and davened by his bedside. The words of our tefillah were so alive, especially as we said the prayer for healing and peace. Afterwards, we sat around his bed and sang to the soft music I played on my guitar. We sang “Beshem HaShem” and “Shomer Yisrael”, invoking the healing power of the angels and God to watch over this young brave man who was serving our country on its front line. I asked his father if he could share with us some stories about Yehuda as a young man growing up at home. The last thing he said was, “Yehuda had so many friends…” Then he stopped himself and added, “No. Not just “had.” But will continue to have. Thank God he is alive.” We all embraced and Yehuda awoke for a few moments to say “Shalom” to us all. I left a number of letters for Yehuda that the children at our Community Day School had written – each began with the words, “Chayal HaYakar – Dearest Soldier.”
Our mission on this trip was to give strength to the many folks who have been injured and traumatized by the ongoing conflict with Hamas. We wanted to let people know that we were thinking of them and that they were not alone. We said it many times: “Am Yisrael Itchem – The Jewish People are with you.” But we go to sleep tonight realizing how much more strength each of these holy men and women have given to us. We are inspired by their courage, optimism, faith, and strength, and by the love for their country and people that shines from their faces.
May we all know peace,
Rabbi Uri Topolsky