Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Conversation with an Injured Soldier

This was not some random soldier I happened to meet nor did I have objectivity when speaking to him. No, this soldier had been my neighbor across the street for twenty years, up until the time he married my daughter, Avigiayil, and they moved into their own apartment a few blocks away.

Gershon had always wanted to be a combat soldier. In Israel there are various ways of serving in the army. One is to make a five year commitment and be in active service part of those years and learn in yeshiva for the rest. Another is to make a three year commitment and work behind the scenes in intelligence, translations, office work, and the like. A third is to be a full combat soldier. Although Gershon respected learning he knew it would be hard for him to sit in yeshiva for so many years. He felt the best way to give his all to the Jewish people and his country was the third choice.

It was after he finished basic training that he and my daughter became engaged. Following the wedding he was offered the possibility of being the driver for a colonel. That would mean coming home almost every evening and seeing his wife on a regular basis. The two decided against that offer. Again, Gershon felt he needed to be a combat soldier to give his one hundred percent.

He had been married half a year when Protective Edge began. Two weeks later his unit was sent “south”, the euphemism that meant he would likely be sent into Gaza. He called his wife Sunday evening telling her he had to turn his cell phone over to his commander. She knew that meant he was actually entering Gaza. While inside he saw no human beings besides other Israeli soldiers. Their job was to search for tunnels and notify intelligence when they found some. Thursday night they came back out. One of the first things he did was to call my daughter.

He spent the next six days on the base near the border. Thursday morning, six days before Tisha B’Av, July 31st, his unit was sent back in. They returned to the border early evening, tired, relieved, and thirsty. As they sat down to rest Geshon’s captain asked him to turn off the walkie-talkie in the jeep. He didn’t jump at the order. In fact, the officer had to command him a second time. Grumbling Gershon got to his feet and made his way to the jeep several meters away. Just then a mortar shell exploded where he had been seated, immediately followed by second one.

Everyone moved to rescue the injured, including Gershon, but as he began to run he fell down. Not understanding why, he saw that the left leg of his uniform was full of blood. His adrenalin had been so high he hadn’t even realized he was hurt. A friend bandaged him and placed him in safety inside an armed personnel carrier. Gershon didn’t notice his pain as he saw everyone trying to do everything they could to help each other.

Five soldiers were killed and fifteen injured. Gershon was taken by helicopter to Bellinson Hospital in Petach Tikva.
 Moving Gershon from the helicopter to the hospital, photo by Or Many Photographer
In the meantime his wife was at work and received a phone call from a strange number. She was pleased to hear her husband’s voice but before he could really tell her anything a women took the phone. This woman, a liaison for the injured to their families, told Avigiayil that Gershon had been lightly injured and she stressed the lightly.  Gently she asked my daughter where she lived and if she needed transportation to get to the hospital.  That was not a problem. Avigiayil would call her in-laws and come with them. Indeed, it was shortly later that the three of them, the ones who love Gershon the most, were on their way to him.

In the middle of the night he had a two hour operation on his leg to remove the shrapnel. By some miracle his bone was not hit and by morning he was in his own room on the orthopedic floor, his wife and parents with him. That was when the parade of visitors began. It was no surprise that his grandparents, in-laws, brother, Avigiayil’s siblings, and a number of friends came to see him. What was surprising was the number of strangers.

No one should have been astonished at the expressions of love and gratitude that were shown to him and the other wounded soldiers. The amount of signs and pictures in the hospital hallways were a clue. Still, Gershon was overwhelmed with all the presents and gratitude showered on him.

There were fantastic gifts like a Tablet, the voucher for a VIP weekend from a hotel chain, the free passes to an amusement park, and more. It was the simpler gestures that touched Gershon the most, though. The Americans representing Friends of Israeli Defense Forces with their appreciation, the Russian couple with their jar of honey who just wanted to say thank you, the families who came with all their children and little treats to show their appreciation.

“Just like in my unit we all tried to help one another,” Gershon said. “All the Jewish people want to help each other.”

On Sunday, three days after the attack, Gershon was let out of the hospital to attend his lieutenant’s funeral. Following that he was officially released and went home. Three days later he made a condolence call to a fallen friend’s family. Limited in activities he is able to do, he’s visited friends who were more seriously injured in several different hospitals. His own prognosis is good and he looks forward to the VIP weekend. He also plans to return to his unit as soon as he is able.

Gershon knows that he’s not the same person he was before the attack. He thinks he sees the world more clearly, hopes he’s more sensitive, and now has a better understanding of what “lightly injured” means. He is thankful for the miracles HaShem made for him.

As his mother-in-law I know that my Avigiayil was seconds and meters away from becoming a widow. There is a powerful prayer that is recited on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur in the Musaf service. On Rosh HaShana it is inscribed and on Yom Kippur it is sealed: How many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live, and who will die; who at his predestined time, and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by hunger, and who by thirst, who by earthquake, and who by plague, who by strangling, and who by stoning, who will be at rest, and who will wander about, who will have quiet, and who will be confused, who will be tranquil, and who will be tormented, who will be wealthy, and who will be poor, who will fall, and who will rise up. But repentance, prayer, and charity can annul the stern decree.     

There are no words to express my thankfulness that Gershon was inscribed for Life. I pray that all the injured were also inscribed for Life and they will have a full recovery.

Please pray for Gershon’s friend, Shachar Ben Naomi Sara, who is still unconscious and is serious condition.


Anonymous said...
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Arnold R. said...

The US Spier's pray for his complete and speedy recovery. Refuah Shelemah.

Ester said...

Thank you, Arnie