Monday‚ Tuesday‚ Wednesday Down Under Rain‚ Striking Gold‚ and Wonderful Conversations…

On Monday our Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP) trip to Australia for wounded Israeli soldiers met with a downpour but we didn’t let it get us down. (I really think nothing gets these guys down! They have so much spirit and determination and a tremendous sense of making every minute count!)

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On Monday our Chabad Terror Victims Project (CTVP) trip toAustralia for wounded Israeli soldiers met with a downpour but we didn’t let it get us down. (I really think nothing gets these guys down! They have so much spirit and determination and a tremendous sense of making every minute count!)

In the morning we took a covered boat ride, then took shelter from the rain by spending the afternoon in the mall followed by a delicious dinner and some time at the casino.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear and we went first toVictoria’s Market so the soldiers (and me) could buy some souvenirs to take home to family and friends.

This was followed by a trip to a zoo and dinner at the KimberlyRestaurant. After dinner we met with some local Australian university students who were invited to speak with the soldiers and ask them any questions they might have.

The university students were amazed and astounded to listen to the stories of these young people, who were the same age as they are, and who have lived such vastly different lives. To be soldiers in battle, to suffer wounds and have to struggle to heal from them – these experiences are worlds apart from what the Australian students lives are like. For many of them, prior to meeting the soldiers, their biggest worries were which team won the footie. They came away from this meeting with a very different perspective on life.

On Wednesday the soldiers traveled to Ballarat’s, Australia’s foremost outdoor museum. Ballarat recreates the first ten years after the discovery of gold in Australia in 1851. Thousands of international fortune-hunters traveled to Australia’s gold fields then (no easy feat in those days) in search of riches. Visiting here is like taking a step back in time with period settings and the opportunity to pan for gold yourself.

Wednesday evening we had a beautiful dinner hosted by Rabbi Zalman Gutnick and his family. Rabbi Gutnick represented his father who had to leave for a family simcha. Mrs. Gutnick’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Mendel New, were co-host for the delightful and delicious evening.

Mr. New comes from a generation that survived the Holocaust and hosting these Israeli soldiers was very emotional and very meaningful for him.

After dinner we had a sort of round table discussion in which everyone was given the opportunity to express his feelings about the trip.

Mor talked about the realities at home and all the hardships from his injury. He said the trip enabled him to forget about the painful therapy for these few days.

Izzy expressed his gratitude for the full and wonderful schedule that left him no time to think about the pain and struggles that await him when he returns to Israel.

Michael spoke for everyone when he said he wasn’t sure how the trip was going to be ahead of time but that now he knew that he and his fellow soldiers, and all the wonderful people they met who hosted them and were so kind to them, all shared one big, loving heart.

Rabbi Barber, the organizer of the trip, was visibly moved as he listened to the soldiers speaking. He talked about how much the trip meant to him as well and he promised to make it into an annual event so many more wounded Israeli soldiers could come toAustralia.

I told everyone that when my time comes to go to heaven, please G‑d it should be in 120 years, I will bring the beautiful smiles on all the faces of the soldiers and their hosts, that CTVP and Rabbi Barber were privileged to make possible, along with me.

To be continued…


Today’s Soldiers in the Spotlight:

Nissan Nissanov, David Saidoff, Lidor Ayalov 

Nissan Nissanov is 22 years old and lives in Bat Yam. He served in a combat engineering unit during the Second Lebanon War. During the last night he was evacuating a tank that was stuck on the battlefront. He was at the head of a column which caught massive artillery fire. He had a protective vest on which saved most of his body, but his face and hands were exposed and caught the brunt of the artillery fire.

His face was badly cut by shrapnel and three fingers of his right hand were blown off. He was transferred to another tank that had a medic and medical supplies but they were then caught in cross-fire and couldn’t be evacuated for another seemingly endless five hours. Finally he was flown out by helicopter to Rambam Hospitalin Haifa.

He underwent many surgeries to remove the shrapnel from his face and repair the many cuts. He has had plastic surgery as well. He almost lost his whole hand but the determination of his commander who begged the surgeons not to amputate, and his own sheer gutsy desire to heal, left him with the hand, albeit with only two fingers. Nissan is still receiving therapy to help with the post-traumatic stress he suffered.

We salute Nissan and his great courage to heal and function again against tremendous odds. We wish him much luck in achieving a meaningful and successful future.

David Saidoff is 28 and from Ariel. He was a combatant in the border police. They received a warning that a terrorist was about to enter from the north of Jerusalem with the intent of blowing himself up in the center of the city.

David and two other soldiers left in their jeep to scan the border and identify suspects. They established a road block at the entrance to the city. They saw a suspect coming toward them with a baby carriage that contained a large bag in the seat (no baby). At two meters distance from them he blew himself up using an explosive belt.

David took fragments to his head, one of which caused a critical hit to the brain. It was on the right side and caused paralysis on his left side. He was evacuated to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital where he remained unconscious for a full month. He was then transferred to a neurological rehab unit in Raanana. After two years there, he went into daily rehab at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan.

David underwent three difficult head surgeries and still suffers from epileptic attacks today. Despite the grave injury to his brain and the left-sided paralysis, he did not suffer mental impairment but his speech and walk are slow. David continues with treatments at Tel Hashomer today.

We salute David who is an enormously courageous young man who has undergone so much. We  wish him all the very best in life and that he is able to achieve a successful and bright future.

Lidor Ayalon is 21 years old and comes from Netanya. He served in an elite artillery unit as a “signaler” in the unit’s headquarters.

During the Second Lebanon War, Lidor was in a valley between two mountains when a bombshell was thrown at him. A helicopter was dispatched to evacuate him but couldn’t land because it was being fired on. But the pilot would not abandon Lidor. At great risk, he landed the helicopter and evacuated Lidor under fire.

Lidor took a direct hit to the throat and shoulder. At the hospital in Nahariya, it seemed as though they might not be able to keep him alive. He had three operations there and survived them and was transferred to Tel Hashomer ten days later.

He was in Tel Hashomer for a year and a half during which he had seventeen operations. Some could not be done is Israel and he went to Boston for them. He was there for seven months. It was very difficult for him and his family for him to be so far away from home.

Today Lidor is a happy, optimistic young man who is deeply grateful for being alive. Before his injuries, he was a champion water-skier and doctors have just allowed him to begin water-skiing again. Netanya is near the ocean so he starts each day by water-skiing.

We salute Lidor for his deep courage and for his extraordinarily optimistic spirit. We wish him a very happy and very successful future.

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