Guest Post: The Ultimate in Courage.
THE ULTIMATE IN COURAGE
By Dr. Elie Levy
A visitor from Seattle hopes to provide comfort to wounded Israeli soldiers, in so doing he finds the ultimate in courage.
This past July, during the most recent war, I could no longer take seeing the names of the Israeli soldiers that had fallen. I told my wife Miriam that I was going to Israel to help out. I read the story about the 45 year old father of two who was murdered just trying to help bring some food and treats to shore up the morale of some Israeli soldiers. I had to do something.
Miriam’s Yeshiva of Flatbush teacher Rabbi Besser was in Israel leading a mission, to visit wounded soldiers the very week we were to be there for a family wedding and my son’s Bar Mitzvah. We decided to join him.
Mid week at 1:30 PM we packed up from our morning at the seashore and went to the rehab center of Tel HaShomer (Sheba) hospital just outside Tel Aviv, 20 minutes away. The facility was tall and beautiful with an enormous entrance.
As we went toward the medical ward, I was unable to bring myself to enter any of the rooms. I just walked back and forth looking side to side.
This kind of a “cold call” is not for me. This, “extreme chessed” (kindness) is for Miriam.
I told Miriam to meet me at ”Coffee Time”, the cafeteria at the entrance of the facility. There, a young man with a broken leg and rainbow Kippah srugah (knit yarmulke) was waiting in line behind me. I looked down and his right foot was missing.
I composed myself and walked back to the ward into a room. The first patient had all sorts of metal poking out of his foot. I attempted to speak to him and engage him , but he just stared, glassy eyed. It was as if his neshama (soul) was taken from him. No response.
I moved on to the next bed in the room and one injured soldier/student/patient was visiting the other. I introduced myself and said where I was from, that my son studied in Israel last year, another is on the way. I tried to say anything that would distract or interest them in some way.
The one man on the left (see photo below) explained he had been shot in the left shoulder and everything was shattered. They had to rebuild it with pins and plates and that the bullet could not be removed. It would remain in him forever.
The other (far right) had a “minor” injury. His whole calf muscle was blown off and he “only” needed a graft. I was able to reassure him that the graft donor site on his right thigh was healing very well.
Finally, the more challenging conversation was with yet another injured young student/patient. His left leg was in a cast suspended in the air. His mother was visiting him at the time. He was from Bet She’an. I told him we had family there, a former Member of Knesset (Israeli Parliament), who, he of course knew. I wavered like a Shalshelet ta’am (repetitive cantillation) in the Torah, then shared with him my closely guarded secret, I am a dermatologist.
For all those who know me, this is sacrosanct – not to be revealed to any stranger under any circumstances. Certainly not a “member of the tribe”. Because then, they take very seriously the call to peoplehood from my father’s book (Dr. Levy’s father Dr. Rene Levy has written a beautiful book on Jewish unity titled Baseless Hatred) and completely identify with me as a very close member of our people. Inevitably I am showered with a detailed list of various and sundry skin related medical concerns.
Now, this young man age 19 had been severely injured in a mortar blast; he was still splattered with a black tar like substance all over his hands, feet and right shoulder. He asked and asked again if his skin would recover perfectly. Always wanting to please, I wanted to say “yes”, “for sure”, “of course”. But the truth was, he was severely scarred. I told him that it would improve with time and that some cortisone injections would help.
He asked emphatically:” will this skin here on my right shoulder look like that on the left?” It may, I answered, but it would take much therapy and a long time. So what can I put on it? he asked. I recommended Biafine cream for burns and wrote it in Hebrew and English on a piece of scrap paper for him.
I later ran into him and, as a true yehudi, one who shows gratitude, he again said “Todah” for the recommendation. I was very touched. I thought to myself, of all things to be concerned about after such a traumatic life episode – your skin ?
Yes. He is a young man, wanting to get married, build a family one day and in courting a young woman, certainly wants to optimize his appearance and minimize any defects. It’s completely natural and expected at his stage in life.
This is the ultimate in courage.
I saw, post facto, sequelae of initiative, determination and great courage. Young, young boys, that took a hit, a burn, a loss of limb and life, literally for all of us here today and all over the world.
In this month of Elul, the Jewish month of penitence, will each one of us have the courage to overcome just one great obstacle in our lives?
If our permanently wounded young brothers can do it, so can we.
Dr. Elie Levy lives in the greater Seattle area with his wife Miriam, six sons and a daughter. He is not a Dermatologist (unless you wish to make an appointment, in which case he is the best around).