The holiday of Purim is characterized by the age-old story of the triumph of good over evil, the miraculous escape of the Jewish people from the evil hooks of those who sought to destroy them.
It is a time of joy and festivities, a time to reach out to fellow Jews and fill their lives with joy, light and dignity. During these days leading up to Purim, Belev Echad - Israeli nonprofit dedicated to ensuring the wounded men and women of the IDF receive the support they need - hosted a special Purim bash.
With the music blasting, colorful strobe lights flashing, and a giant all-you-can-eat buffet at Jaffa’s spectacular Bayit al Hayam (House on the Sea) reception hall, IDF soldiers and veterans ate, drank and danced the night away in full costume, allowing the joy of Purim to elevate them beyond the horrors of war and terror that they’ve endured.
“Belev Echad embraces us in warmth and understanding. They give us a place where we feel accepted and understood. Belev Echad gives us the courage to believe that we can triumph over disability, physical and emotional pain,” says Shaked Aviv who was wounded five years ago in a terror attack in Jerusalem.
Today, she’s dressed in a slinky black cat complete with a headband with ears, grinning from ear to ear as she gyrates to the music. “Usually, we meet each other in rehabilitation, physical therapy and other medical appointments. It’s amazing to see everyone here together at a party where there’s a different vibe and positive energy.”
Bedecked in a bleached blond wig that’s in striking contrast to his dark hair and olive skin, Major Ofir Anidjar recounts the chilling story of his wound in 2014 Gaza war known as Operation Protective Edge. Anidjar received a medal for courage during his service in the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and was honorably discharged. As a company commander in the reserves, Ofir was studying engineering and engaged to Shay when Operation Protective Edge broke out, overturning their bliss. The couple was supposed to be married on October 6, but Ofir was seriously wounded by a missile on July 30.
“A terrorist squad emerged from an underground tunnel shaft and launched a missile at my men. There was a huge blast, and my body was thrown far into the air. I tried counting my men to see if they were alright, to see if there were any wounded but I passed out," he said.
"When I regained consciousness, my first question was ‘Where are my soldiers?’ I had shrapnel in my right leg, and I still have shrapnel in my left arm. My eyes were injured; my head was injured. I still suffer from headaches all day long and especially at night.
"The PTSD I suffered opened deep ugly scars because this wasn’t the first time I’d been hit by a missile. Our job in the army was to serve as bait for the enemy, and we did it proudly with a sense of mission. During every operation, we led the forces inside, and at the end of each mission, rescued and evacuated the wounded and dead. We carry these sights with us eternally; they never leave us. Sometimes, we wish we could have lost an arm, but instead we’re left with deep emotional scars," he said.
“Belev Echad gave me a reason to get out of the house, not to stay at home, to be with soldiers like me who understand what I’ve been through. They helped me recover.
“For me, it’s very special to see him on his feet again, to see that life goes on,” said his wife Shay. “Belev Echad has given Ofir the gift of life and rehabilitation. They give him the courage to move past his physical and emotional pain and carry on.”
In the 12 years since its inception, Belev Echad has grown into an international initiative dedicated to easing the transition of terror victims, WIA soldiers and veterans back into mainstream society and the workforce. Through a well-designed support system that empowers each veteran and builds on his or her skills and hobbies, the organization adopts each wounded soldier individually and assumes the multiple roles of mentor, advocate and friend, guiding him or her through critical medical, educational and professional decisions and celebrating life’s milestones, big and small.
Belev Echad’s seasonal events, parties and trips are all important elements that empower WIA soldiers and terror victims and help them rehabilitate physically, emotionally and spiritually. Its Center in Kiryat Ono offers delicious daily lunches, a fully-equipped gym and fitness center, semi-Olympic pool and array of facilities that likewise facilitate their physical and emotional rehabilitation in a warm, supportive environment, along with peers who’ve been through similar harrowing experiences.
Major Raz Budani, who was wounded in action in 2009 and suffered serious trauma but pulled out of it with Belev Echad’s help is currently the director of the NGO's Center in Kiryat Ono: “They taught me what it meant to live again, to feel joy and happiness again, and to want to give and contribute to society,” said Budani who has since taken those sentiments far and inspired hundreds of soldiers to follow the path of recovery and healing that he took.
“There’s an incredible force, spirit and hope emanating from this party,” said Belev Echad cofounder Shevy Vigler. “There’s a feeling that we can triumph over darkness and come out stronger.”
“I was wounded in Operation Pillar of Cloud 11 years ago and comatose for 150 hours. I suffered deep mental trauma and have since been diagnosed as bipolar,” said Matan Segerman. “Belev Echad helped me with so many things. Today, I’m surfing once a week, which helps me when I’m down. Other events, like this party, make such a difference in our lives. It’s awesome.”
With a mask covering his eyes, Omer Mor, who was serving in the IDF’s intelligence unit when he was injured in an operation in 2014, said: “We’re here because we want to be together. We have the same traumas and we have the same feelings, fears and challenges. I was injured lightly in my right shoulder, but the wound got infected and spread throughout the entire right side of my body. I was in the hospital for 5 months and then in rehab for a year. Belev Echad came to visit me in the hospital, talked to me, encouraged me, and since then, I’m part of the Belev Echad family. They’re my second family.”
“Belev Echad’s mission,” said Yossi Nasser, Belev Echad Board Member, “is to help these young heroes rehabilitate and offer them opportunities for friendship and mutual support from peers who have suffered like them.
"We provide the soldiers with memorable, meaningful events that remain with them for life. We also fund their education and support them through the process of finding jobs, and we’ve witnessed incredible results—true miracles. We’re so proud of what they do to help safeguard our country, and this Purim party is one way for us to express that appreciation.”
Rabbi Uriel Vigler, who cofounded Belev Echad with his wife Shevy, said: “Purim is a time of miracles, a story of the Jewish victory of good over evil that occurs year after year. Here at Belev Echad, we witness miracles every day.”