Israel Defense Forces soldiers wounded in recent rounds of battle and terror took part in 10 days of vacation and rehabilitation in sun-drenched Palm Beach and Miami.
Dvir Taman, who was injured in Operation Protective Edge and spent 8 months in the hospital, said, “It’s been ages since I’ve felt so good, so comfortable and safe. It’s more than just fun; it’s oxygen for me.”
Born-and-bred Jerusalemite Taman, 29, always knew that he’d one day serve in the IDF. Growing up in the wake of the second intifada, with the daily headlines screaming of stabbings and bus bombings, he was spurred by idealism and fervent desire to protect family and friends. At 19, he enlisted in the IDF and joined a special undercover border police unit working within Jerusalem.
Operation Protective Edge broke out in 2014 following the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teens which resulted in the retaliatory lynching of an Arab teen from Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhood of Shuafat. When Israeli intelligence discovered that a band of terrorists was planning a massive terror attack on the Jerusalem Light Rail which passes through Shuafat, Dvir’s unit and a SWAT team were sent late at night into Shuafat to take down the terrorists.
Ultimately, the terrorists learned that they were coming, and when they entered the neighborhood, they found it in chaos.
“It was literally a war zone with fire and stones fired everywhere. As we were chasing the terrorists through the village, an Arab dropped a cinderblock from a height of four floors onto my head. Luckily, it missed my skull and hit only my back and shoulders, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it out of there alive,” Dvir recounts his bloodcurdling tale.
Taman spent the next eight months of his life in the hospital followed by a period of grueling rehab as he struggled to regain control over his body. “Worse than my paralyzed body was my shattered soul. I felt so alone; there were days that I prayed to God to take me away and that my loved ones wouldn’t miss me. It was Belev Echad that pulled me out of this rut.”
One day, he received a phone call from a fellow who introduced himself as Raz Budany and invited him to join a 10-day mission to New York along with fellow soldiers and veterans who’d been wounded in action (WIA) and terror attacks.
“Initially, I refused. I’d lost faith in humanity and people, but they refused to give up. They called and pleaded, cajoled and pushed until I said, ‘What the heck? What have I got to lose?’ I went, and there I met incredible people who understood me, guys and girls who felt was I was feeling, with whom I could really share what I was going through with. I felt understood, and for the first time in ages, I felt like I belonged.”
Since that original mission, Belev Echad has led dozens of missions for WIA soldiers, veterans and terror victims. Some are all about rest and rehabilitation, while others are about visiting college campuses across the U.S., which have seen an uptick in virulent anti-Semitism over the past years, and sharing what it means to be young warriors fighting to defend innocent men, woman and children in their own homeland.
Now with tensions in Israel rising along with the upsurge of security threats, terrorist violence, and frequent shootings and car rammings that have left fifteen dead since the start of 2023, Belev Echad brought nine soldiers and veterans who were injured in recent battles and former terror incidents to the Sunshine State where they can escape the fear and trauma of an anxiety-ridden present and focus exclusively on the process of rehabilitating.
Over the course of 10 action-packed days, the group sailed on yachts in the spectacular bay, enjoyed a heart stopping ride a helicopter, and visited the crocodiles in the Everglades.
“Belev Echad invited me to join them again, this time to Miami. It’s been ages since I’ve felt so good, so comfortable and safe. It’s more than just fun; it’s oxygen for me. We felt so appreciated to be thanked for our service and for defending our people. This kind of outpouring of love is not something that we soldiers or veterans take for granted, and it’s very instrumental to our healing. I hope that more of my Belev Echad brothers will have this opportunity to heal and have a good time with these amazing folks from Miami, to feel their love and appreciation, to feel that they belong and that they’re not alone.”
Rabbi Uriel Vigler, founder and director of Belev Echad, shares: “We spent ten awesome days here in Palm Beach and Miami, where we toured all the sites and spent a beautiful, uplifting Shabbat. Some of the soldiers are new to Belev Echad, while others have been with us for years. We genuinely love these guys. The ten-day trip is just one small part of the overall rehabilitation process that Belev Echad offers WIA soldiers and veterans.”
As an international initiative dedicated to easing the transition of wounded-in-action (WIA) soldiers and terror victims back into mainstream society and the workforce, Belev Echad had created a well-designed support system that builds on the skills and hobbies of each soldier and veteran to navigate his or her return to life. For many soldiers, the organization assumes the roles of mentor, advocate and friend, guiding him or her through critical medical, educational and professional decisions and celebrating life’s milestones together, big and small.
“We take the soldiers, some of whom we’ve known for years since their injuries, and we literally give them everything they need—food, a place to be, money, therapies, emotional and educational support, and tons more. These ten days with them in Miami were incredible, and it was wonderful seeing them smiling, laughing and unwinding, so when they go back to Israel, we can continue giving them the therapies they need and helping them rehabilitate physically and emotionally,” says Uriel’s wife and co-founder of Belev Echad, Shevy Vigler.
Amit Shmuel, 27, also joined the 10-day trip to Miami. As a former soldier in the prestigious Givati Brigade, he was seriously injured after only one year of service when a stray terrorist’s bullet sent him careening down a tall cliff into a ravine. His survival was a miracle, but followed by 10 harrowing months in the hospital that caused him to sink into depression. “I felt that I’d I lost everything in my life, except life itself. From a 100% fit combat soldier, I was completely disabled,” relates Amit.
“During this excruciating time in my life, Belev Echad entered and showed me light and happiness again. Today, with Belev Echad’s encouragement and financial support, I’m an undergrad student in college and I have my own business. I feel so blessed, and I want to say thank you to the wonderful folks in Miami for hosting us and opening your hearts to us.”
“This group that we brought here to Miami was not just on vacation. Especially now with tensions brewing in Israel, with terrorism on the rise and the security situation shakier than it’s been in a while, it’s a vital stage in their rehabilitation. Here, they felt respected, appreciated, they were called heroes, and this was the best thing people can do for them,” says Major Raz Budany, director of the Belev Echad Center in Kiryat Ono, Israel. Budany himself was injured in battle in 2009, and it was Belev Echad that lifted him out of the morass of depression that followed his debilitating injuries, guided him back to life and to inspiring soldiers and veterans who have suffered similar experiences.
“Here, the soldiers had fresh air and open space to think about what they can’t think at home. With the trip behind us, we’re going to ask them now what their dreams are for the next stage in their lives. Our hope is that this trip was an empowering experience for them, and that it will make them want to do something more in their lives.”