On the last day of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in August 2014, Gadi Yarkoni, a former IDF member, was supervising the repair of an electricity tower damaged by Hamas that morning. The son of kibbutz pioneers, Gadi lived in Kibbutz Nirim, in the Eshkol region, a stone’s throw from the Gaza border.
At the last moment before the cease fire took effect, a heavy barrage of rocket fire hit the area. Gadi and two friends went down, critically wounded by shrapnel.
After laying unconscious for two weeks at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, he opened his eyes and was astonished to see that both his legs had been blown off. And he was saddened to learn that his two childhood friends who worked with him had been killed.
Gadi endured five exhausting months of recuperation in Tel Aviv. During that difficult time, he desperately needed his wife and children, but they were an hour and a half away. They could come only twice a week to visit.
“My nine–year-old son who almost lost me,” Gadi said, “was frightful of the terror tunnels that were discovered close to our community. I couldn’t hug him and support him from far away.”
Gadi came home with artificial legs. Despite his tragic experiences, and mustering an endless source of optimism, he decided to run for mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council and improve the quality of life for his people. In June 2015 he stood for elections and became the new mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council.
He realized that there was an urgent need for a rehab center in Beersheba, at the hospital that saved his life, so that the people of the Negev — Jew, Arab and Bedouin — won’t have to travel all the way up to Tel Aviv like he did. He needed to be in rehab twice a week but his responsibility as mayor didn’t always allow him to commute that often.
“We need a great rehab department at Soroka,” Gadi pleaded at the fourth annual American Friends of Soroka Medical Center dinner last month at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York.
Ken Abramowitz, co-chair of the American Friends, said he was shocked to learn that Soroka, a strategic asset to Israel, lacked inpatient rehabilitation medicine. As Soroka is essential to Israel’s plans to develop the Negev, he vowed that the American Friends will have this new facility in place as soon as possible.