Israeli hospitals do an amazing job helping wounded soldiers to recover from injuries sustained on the battlefield. But what about the injuries that no one can see, the emotional wounds that can, if not treated, remain as scars for a lifetime?

Belev Echad was founded with exactly that thought in mind, and Arutz Sheva joined them for their “Weekend of Love” in the north of Israel, meeting with wounded soldiers at various stages of recovery, listening to their stories and discovering just how much Belev Echad does to enable them to return to regular life – from providing them with financial assistance to all the emotional support they need to overcome the traumatic events they have experienced.

“The emotional damage is the hardest to overcome,” says Shai, a wounded soldier. “We deal with it every single day.”

That’s something that Belev Echad’s founders understand all too well. Major (res.) Raz Budni was wounded during the course of his service in the IDF and is now co-director of the organization’s Israeli program. The other co-director, Sharon Shtrachman, has a daughter, Lihi, who was injured in a terrorist attack and herself benefited from Belev Echad’s services.

“When I meet soldiers or civilians who join our organization, I remember the period of time after I was wounded myself,” Raz relates. “You’re sitting there unable to do anything. Whether you were an officer or regular duty soldier, you were looked up to and appreciated – and now you’re helpless. There’s this feeling that no one is aware of your presence or cares what happens to you.”

That’s where Belev Echad comes in – to restore confidence and competence to soldiers who’ve been through things that most of us cannot conceive of. “The trust we instill in these soldiers helps them keep moving forward,” Raz notes.

The process begins with a weeklong trip to the United States where the soldiers meet members of the New York Jewish community, people who believe in them and want to help them.

“This trip to New York – it’s like a condensed version of three years of army service,” says Stav, a wounded soldier. “You really connect to the people with you on the trip.” Shai agrees. “It’s an amazing experience, and gives us an escape from everyday life. All of us there together – everyone understands where we’re coming from and we really feel heard. It’s hard to explain to people who haven’t been through something similar.”

But the benefits aren’t just for the soldiers themselves – those who meet with them also gain so much. “The soldiers really inspire the community,” says Rabbi Uriel Vigler, Belev Echad’s founder and chairman. “There’s a tremendous amount of love and affection.”

After the trip to New York comes the weekend in northern Israel, reinforcing the participants’ connection to one another and continuing the healing process. Especially now, in the wake of the most recent Gaza conflict, wounded soldiers are finding long-suppressed emotions resurfacing.

“When I heard the rocket siren, it took me back to the time I was wounded myself,” relates Raz. “I saw my children looking to me for support, and not seeing the strong father figure they’re used to.”

“This weekend came at just the right time for me,” says Ohad. “It gave me the opportunity to share my experiences and hear stories like mine – for me this meant everything.”

And he’s far from the only one. “When we see wounded soldiers and know what they’re going through during sleepless nights – seeing the smiles on their faces during our programs is what gives me strength,” says Sharon.

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