JFNA solidarity mission, day one: Politics and Beit Halochem

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Members of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix delegation include Association President and CEO Stuart Wachs, fourth from left, and Shahar Edry, director of the Israel Center, second from left. Photo by Don Schon

Guest blogger Don Schon is currently in Israel on a solidarity mission with the Jewish Federations of North America. Here is his account of the delegation’s first day.

Ninety seconds! That’s the amount of time that people in Tel Aviv have to get to a shelter after the sirens sound and before a missile strikes.

 This day started and ended with political discussions with Israelis, both a stranger (a tour professional) this morning and a family this afternoon. The sentiments expressed were strangely similar. The Israelis both times expressed anger at the fanaticism, cruelty and hatred of Hamas. They expressed approval of their government’s response to the crisis. Then they expressed frustration that their political process has not brought them closer to peace and security.

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Beit Halochem is a sports, rehabilitation and recreation center in Israel serving disabled veterans and their families. Photo courtesy of Don Schon

In between, we went to visit an inspiring institution (actually a collection of five branches), Beit Halochem, or the House of the Warriors. This tiny country has dealt with 50,000 disabled war veterans since 1948. They have done so by developing this amazing place for the war casualties to go after they leave hospital-associated institutions. Beit Halochem has over 11,000 visits per month. It provides a panoply of services, including counseling to hospitalized serviceman/woman and food vouchers for their families. Once they are released, it provides long-term rehab services, retraining, emotional support, educational grants, quiet places for those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and noisy places for their families and children. It does this with 85 percent of its funds coming from donations and user fees and a director with a Ph.D. in business and experience in private business and community service.

Torture Apparatus

This ceramic piece was made by an IDF soldier who spent five months in Hezbollah captivity in Syria; making these ceramic pieces was part of his therapy. Photo by Don Schon

Before we left, we had a session with an IDF soldier who spent five months in Hezbollah captivity in Syria. He explained his ceramic representations made as part of his therapy. They are torture equipment his capturers used to extract information. For four and a half months, he underwent daily torture. He was strung up with chains with a bag over his head and spun and beaten over a polished metal blade, knowing if they felt he had no value he would be murdered. As a bonus, they threw him to the ground and stomped on him, beating and cursing him. The third ceramic is of the imaginary scenes he visualized to maintain his sanity. He went on to correctly predict in dreams his eventual release and his successful career in business. He described his unexpected near death in an auto accident, economic decline and bankruptcy and the repossession of his home. In spite of all this, he chose to concentrate on the miracles of happiness which visited his life every day. He gave back by helping the next generation of wounded and disabled veterans. We sat there in silence embarrassed that we ever felt justified in complaining about anything.

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