Terribly wounded, but these IDF veterans learned to live again

A visit to India proved a turning point for 20 disabled Israeli ex-soldiers


In 2008 doctors feared Noam Nakash would never walk again.

The 21-year-old was just six months away from discharge from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) when he suffered life-changing injuries while serving in Gaza.

The catastrophic attack on his unit robbed him of one of his legs and left the other severely injured.

But last year, after 17 operations and years of intensive therapy, he spent two weeks on an expedition to India where he not only walked, but climbed mountains.

He was one of 20 men, all wounded in conflict, to participate in the trip, which included a gruelling trek through the Himalayas.

Mr Nakash admitted that he was anxious at the prospect of making the trip. "Yes, I was worried. How would I do the trek in the mountains?"

But his fears proved unfounded. "It was hard at first," he said. "At the beginning I had to ride on a horse rather than walk. But then I decided I would get off the saddle, and I felt the ground beneath me," he said

The experience allowed Mr Nakash, who is 28 and lives in Tel Aviv, to regain his self-confidence.

"The trip made me feel as if something inside me had really woken up and now I'm looking forward to the future," he said.

The visit to India was the brainchild of Beit Halochem (translated in English as Home of the Warrior), an organisation which oversees five sports, rehabilitation and recreation centres serving 51,000 disabled veterans and victims of terror and their families.

The trip was filmed and aired on prime-time Israeli television last summer. Now, for the first time, the documentary will be shown to an audience outside of the country.

Later this spring the JW3 community centre in north-west London will host the UK premiere of The Journey Back to Life, followed by a Q&A session with some of the individuals involved.

A spokesman for Beit Halochem said the visit, called "tiyul shichrur" (or "discharge trip"), offered wounded soldiers a traditional Israeli rite of passage - the post-army overseas journey.

He said: "Life came to an abrupt halt for these young soldiers, who were wounded while serving the state of Israel.

"They were never able to go on the traditional after-the-army trip, which almost every young Israeli experiences.

"This special project aimed to create an empowering experience and help bridge the gap between their traumas and the need to move on."

Led by a professional guide and accompanied by a medical team, the group left Israel in April 2015 for a challenging fortnight in India during which the men were pushed to their limits - physically and emotionally. Some had been recently wounded, while others had spent years learning to cope with their injuries.

One of the latter was Haim Yakar. Currently studying for an electrical engineering degree in Haifa, the 30-year-old suffered extensive injuries when he was hit by an explosive device in the second Lebanon war in 2006.

His sight and hearing were both affected and he suffered a broken leg, extensive scarring and severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said: "Most of my friends went off travelling after they were discharged. Some went to South America, some to Thailand, some to India.

"I assumed it would never happen for me, so I got on with life in the real world. Eventually I was approached and asked if I was interested in taking part. I said yes straight away. I knew that there would be young people on the trip who had not long been injured and I felt a responsibilty to show them that life goes on, plus, I wanted closure.

"At the beginning I would take it easy and forget about my problems. I didn't expect what happened next. The trip gave me time to think about the bigger picture. When you see how hard life is in India and how people live, you can't help thinking about your own life and focusing on the positives."

Tickets are now on sale for the film, which will be shown days after Yom Ha'atzmaut on May 23.

After the screening, a delegation of Israelis behind the project - among them First Lieutenant Ohad Roisblatt, who rejoined the IDF after taking part trip to India - will answer questions.

The session will be compered by Spencer Gelding, Beit Halochem UK chief executive. The charity was established in 2012 to raise funds for Beit Halochem. It has raised almost £4 million since it was set up.

The expedition to India helped rehabilitate the former soldiers both physically and mentally, but it also appears to have restored the romance in their lives.

Since returning from India, two of the former soldiers have married, while Mr Nakash has set up home with his girlfriend, who he met as a result of the film.

And Mr Yakar is due to wed his fiancee later this year. He said: "I got a different perspective on life from the trip, and decided it was time to move on. So when I came back, I proposed to my girlfriend."

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