Wounded Israeli & American Soldiers Heal Through Fellowship

A growing number of Israeli soldiers are banding together in the United States to tackle PTSD — using each other as a bridge to do so. The brotherhood that exists among veterans is a bond like no other. Initiatives and groups from the East to West Coasts are bringing Israeli and American soldiers together in an attempt to heal through fellowship.

In New York City, with Belev Echad (One Heart in Hebrew) Org, groups of wounded vets travel to NYC to reminisce, visit sites like the Statue of Liberty, and tell stories of their lives in battle and after. Belev Echad has been bringing wounded members of the Israel Defense Forces to New York City since 2009. The tour is sponsored by Chabad’s Upper East Side Israeli community and was attended by 60 alumni and supporters this year.  Supporters include community members who help alumni acquire computers for school and financial for durable goods, including prosthetic limbs.

Director of the Chabad Center, Rabbi Uriel Vigler, thinks events like these are a powerful way to bring a community together.  “Years later, it still affects people”. Adds Vigler, “They all fought in the IDF

[Israeli Defense Force], so they’re very familiar with soldiers. They embraced the idea from the start.”

And Rabbi Vigler isn’t alone. According to the Algemeiner, another Israeli veterans organization called Brothers for Life is helping wounded American soldiers move past hardships through connections with Israeli combat soldiers. The organization runs group sessions where American and Israeli soldiers spend time together — anywhere from a few hours to a week. Icebreakers include different sports events that provide a way for veterans to open up.  Co-founder and Executive Director of Brothers for Life Rabbi Chaim Levine believes that no one can impact the life of a soldier more deeply than another soldier.

“What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has.”

Levine, who also served in the IDF, has more than an administrative connection to the initiative. In fact, most of the members are IDF. External relations coordinator Arale Wattenstein, who served in the IDF and injured during an anti-terror op, has said that their group works because the brotherhood of soldiers functions as one. “They have the same enemy; same blood. If a bullet hits you, it hits everyone the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re American or Israeli.”

Wattenstein has always seen great benefit in Americans connecting to how Israelis think. “For them [Americans] I think it’s a big issue and a problem to understand that you need to live with a bullet inside of you, to live with a prosthetic leg or with something bigger, God forbid. And for us that’s our life,” he continues “That’s how we live. In Israel, every second person has PTSD. So you have to live. You have to smile.”

Brothers for Life’s popularity has brought group sessions in cities across the U.S., from Boston to San Francisco to Washington. Upon experiencing one of the sessions, Chris Brown, former U.S. Marine, founded a soldier-to-soldier peer program where veterans help one another.  Brown was so moved by the Brothers for Life experience that he wanted to share it with other U.S. vets.

“I think the example that the Israelis set is probably one of the most beneficial things that U.S. veterans can get because in Israeli culture it seems to be a lot easier to share your story and to articulate the struggle that you have.”

Every day, vets return with physical, mental, and emotional challenges that can affect every aspect of their lives, but if the successes of these organization is any indication, fellowship appears to be the greatest enemy against PTSD.