Some 200 disabled IDF veterans gathered last weekend at the Ramot Resort Village near the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee for a fun retreat featuring a range of activities designed to foster a supportive and empowering community.
Or Porat, a former combat soldier in the elite Duvdevan Unit who was severely injured during his service in October 2016, underscores the importance of providing support to other veterans who might be going through tough times.
"When I'm at a weekend getaway like this with friends who have similar backgrounds, it gives me strength,” he says. “I experience the challenges my friends are going through and feel like I'm in the same boat with other people, and that's empowering.
As you know, there have been several tragic stories involving disabled IDF veterans recently, and a supportive community can prevent such tragedies and provide strength and power."
The initiative was spearheaded by Belev Echad Organization, which was founded in 2009 by the Jewish community in New York and cares for disabled IDF veterans.
"Our goal this weekend is to unite them under Belev Echad,” says Major (res.) Raz Budani, the organization’s co-director of programs in Israel.
“We have a center in Kiryat Ono where we have daily activities. The aim of this retreat is to make them part of the community and encourage them to attend the range of activities the organization offers throughout the year, thereby improving their quality of life.”
The program, which began as a local initiative of the Jewish community in New York, is now turning into a global movement. Its goal is to provide a comprehensive rehabilitation framework for injured IDF veterans and their families.
Through extensive support, both physical and emotional, the program aims to help these veterans reintegrate into civilian life and honor the sacrifices they made for their country during their military service.
Sharon Shtrachman, whose daughter was injured during her military service and now serves as manager of programs at Belev Echad, said, "This gathering allows us to better understand the soldiers and provides tools on how to care for them. We've realized that treatment through social engagement and the shared sense of togetherness in a fun and enjoyable experience addresses many issues."
Belev Echad’s flagship program includes a 10-day trip to the United States for members. This trip is filled with love, fun events and exposure to the Jewish community, all intended to help participants turn over a new leaf and embark on a journey to rehabilitation.
Founder Rabbi Uriel Vigler says, “We are thrilled to be able to host our beloved soldiers again for a weekend of rejuvenation and transformation. We see firsthand how much these few days help them in their recovery.
The best therapy for our soldiers is to have each other, to connect, to talk, to bond and to share their experiences together. The bonds and connections that are forged between the soldiers during this weekend remain forever.”