The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - FAM­ILY

THE WEEKLY email from the shul rarely gets more than a glance but this one caught my eye. In among the de­tails of ser­vices was an ap­peal to fam­i­lies to host a wounded Is­raeli sol­dier for a visit to Lon­don. I sent it to Si­mon, my hus­band. He replied, within sec­onds: “Def­i­nitely!” From then on, it be­came his project.

The del­e­ga­tion was due to ar­rive in Novem­ber, im­me­di­ately after our son’s bar­mitz­vah in Is­rael. As the days ticked by, I be­gan to ques­tion my san­ity.

The day after we landed at Ben Gu­rion for the bar­mitz­vah, our al­lot­ted sol­dier, Wisam, drove twoand-a-half hours to meet us for a drink in Tel Aviv. All we knew was that he was around our age, mar­ried with three chil­dren and that he was not Jewish but Druze.

I was blown away by his re­sem­blance to Si­mon’s fam­ily — they could have been re­lated. We could not have fore­seen the emo­tional im­pact of his visit.

A few weeks later, a shy and quiet Wisam ar­rived at our house laden with home-made Druze del­i­ca­cies: olives, olive oil and a moun­tain of freshly baked bread.

With fam­ily spread world­wide, our three boys are no strangers to house guests. But this was dif­fer­ent.

The pro­gramme or­gan­is­ers de­signed a packed sched­ule for our vis­i­tors, who they de­scribed as “walk­ing wounded”. Guests ranged from 21 to 60, with vary­ing de­grees of in­jury. While some had been wounded as far back as the Yom Kip­pur War, oth­ers were felled in bat­tle as re­cently as 2014.

These eight men and two women had suf­fered a range of trau­mas and this was our at­tempt to wel­come them into our hearts and homes as a sign of our ap­pre­ci­a­tion, a recog­ni­tion of their sac­ri­fices to pre­serve our right to a Jewish home­land. Wasim, the Kolirins’ guest They are not just de­fined by their ex­pe­ri­ences in the mil­i­tary. They are in­di­vid­u­als with jobs and fam­i­lies who have ex­pe­ri­enced trauma, some­thing many of them have fought long and hard to over­come. They are all mem­bers of Beit Halochem, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that sup­ports veter­ans and their fam­i­lies with ex­cep­tional re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ser­vices and life-long care.

We were warned not to ques­tion them — they would open up if they chose to. For Wisam, this came after a late-night drink­ing ses­sion with Si­mon fol­low­ing a party for the group and host fam­i­lies.

Ear­lier in the evening the veter­ans had staged a mil­i­tary grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony for the host chil­dren. They pre­sented them with the berets of their own units — an ex­pe­ri­ence which sends shivers down my spine even now, just think­ing of it.

The evening was over­whelm­ingly emo­tional, with lots of hugs, self­ies and tears. On a long al­co­hol­fu­elled walk home later, Wisam opened up to Si­mon about his phys­i­cal and emo­tional in­juries and how much the stay with our fam­ily had meant to him.

The bond we formed not just with Wisam, but with some of the oth­ers — both here and from Is­rael — was re­mark­able. These friend­ships were forged over sim­ple things: a sin­ga­long, fish and chips, bowl­ing, shop­ping at Pri­mark, a night at the dog track and more.

Beit Halochem is sup­ported by two char­i­ties here in Eng­land. Beit Halochem UK (BHUK) raises funds for the phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and oc­cu­pa­tional needs of the veter­ans at the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s five cen­tres in Is­rael. It reg­u­larly stages fundrais­ing events, while also bring­ing wounded spokes­peo­ple for the group to speak at var­i­ous com­mu­nity events. Later this month, it will stage a spe­cial Yom Hazikaron ser­vice fea­tur­ing Hanoch Budin, who was in­jured in the 1982 Le­banon War but went on to Par­a­lympic glory.

The Bri­tish Friends of Is­rael War Dis­abled sup­ports the char­ity in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent way. Their role is to con­nect host fam­i­lies with groups of vis­it­ing veter­ans like ours.

Chair­man Frank Wein­berg ex­plained: “We talk about re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and it’s cer­tainly that, plus they are away from the drudge and the rou­tine. They come here and don’t have to worry about any­thing.”

The respite is not just for them but their fam­i­lies too, ac­cord­ing to Wein­berg.

“A young cou­ple gets mar­ried then the guy gets wounded. His wife ef­fec­tively be­comes a carer.

“There’s a ma­jor prob­lem with the spouse who is tied to the home or their partner by virtue of their partner’s in­jury. There­fore, to a large ex­tent, not only is it respite and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for the veter­ans but quite of­ten it’s for the spouse or par­ents left in Is­rael.”

As for the hosts, he says: “It’s not just about giv­ing some­one a bed, but a com­mit­ment to spend time with them.

“You give up your time and you see the change in the per­son you are host­ing from day one to day 10. You don’t need to be wealthy — what you do need is a time com­mit­ment.”

Thanks to gen­er­ous lega­cies, the char­ity foots the bill for air-fares, with shul com­mit­tees fundrais­ing for hos­pi­tal­ity dur­ing the vis­its. “While the groups are here they don’t have to put their hands in their pock­ets for a sin­gle penny,” says Frank Wein­berg.

“It’s such an eye-opener to see the level of love for the state of Is­rael through the host fam­i­lies and the or­gan­is­ers and their dif­fer­ent groups.

“They will talk about this won­der­ful com­mu­nity and how they do so much for Is­rael. It’s know­ing that there are peo­ple out­side Is­rael who care about them.”

Wein­berg him­self be­came in­volved after his par­ents acted as hosts. He has since wel­comed sev­eral veter­ans into his home, who have gone on to be­come close fam­ily friends.

“We hosted a guy in a wheel­chair who was in­jured in the Yom Kip­pur war. He came with his wife and, at the farewell party, all the guys in wheel­chairs were danc­ing around. Stand­ing in the cor­ner was the wife, cry­ing. She said: ‘Tonight for the first time in my life, I danced with my hus­band.’

“When it was their daugh­ter’s wed­ding, I went to Is­rael. He was on the dance floor, danc­ing with his daugh­ter. That might never have hap­pened had he not come on one of our trips.”

At the end of the week host­ing Wisam, we had an emo­tional farewell. He left with a suit­case of presents for his chil­dren and a place in each our hearts.

The Kolirins say good­bye to Wasim

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