The sprawling grounds of Beit Ha Lohem, located outside of Tel Aviv, as it translates into House of Warriors (Fighters) only meant one thing to me.
I admit that the first time I went to the club, designed for the wounded soldiers of Israel, I was reluctant to even enter. I knew from my husband, he being a veteran of the Yom Kippur War, that it was created and built for the fighters that returned either from a battle or their service in the mandatory Israeli army, with some sort of souvenir, as my husband jokingly said in his Israeli humor. In my mind was one thing, negativity, and my thoughts were unsettled. “I don’t know if I can handle it. Being surrounded by the soldiers that survived wars and battles, they must be in bad shape and may be difficult for me.”
Upon arrival, the colorful peacocks, milky white ducks and variety of geese greeted me on the very sunny, front lawn of this club. They were full of life as they chatted up a storm. The lush green landscape, including plantings with overflowing giant leaves, all size cactus, colorful flowers, line the walkway and invited me in. Instantly the surroundings and its serenity took hold of me and drew me inside the building, the unexpected experience began, and it felt positive.
Vines of plants covered the entire left wall that framed one side of the high, wide staircase at the entry. In the center of the area were more vines, that wound around a large, very tall block. It gave the illusion as if it was a tree indoors, that could have led all the way to the sky, one that you may find in Jack and the beanstalk. Vivid faces and bright colors jumped out of the paintings on the opposite wall, where the latest exhibition was on display, thanks to the talented people from the club. The members were not just the soldiers, their spouses and children were also eligible at a reasonable cost. We passed through the gym, at a glance was an impressive selection of weights and all sorts of machines and trainers to meet everyone’s needs. I looked forward to that next, but our first stop for participation was the pool.
An irresistible indoor Olympic size pool, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, faces the outdoors of the wide, open, green lawn, boasts a bright, well lit space. The backyard area in full view, with many scattered chairs and umbrellas for shade, where members and their guests indulged in picnics. The water and it’s temperature was equally tempting from its glistening reflection. The pool, organized with roped off sections, separated for men and women, and other areas for more severely disabled, blind people and situations that were not expected among swimmers, was an awesome awakening. My feeling of astonishment began as the variety of members entered the pool area and prepared to swim. Their behavior was natural. There were those young and much older men, with prosthetics that were easily removed from their bodies, women too, their missing parts did not deter, they literally dived right into the water and got into their laps. There were others in wheelchairs that had their routine down very well, as they knew just how to maneuver their bodies, and in some cases because of paralysis were lowered into the pool with a special lift. Once in the water they were raring to go. As it turns out this was not the only pool in the facility. A group of visitors on a tour of Israel had passed through the pool area we were in and entered into another pool behind this one. In that pool were the most serious cases and the equipment to rehabilitate was remarkable. It was the smile on everyone’s face that impressed me the most. “Shalom,” from all sides were coming at me coupled with a huge grin, friendliness was the vibe. I heard lots of joking going on, in between the main focus, to get their exercise in, crucial to their existence. This was a group of happy campers, despite the reality that each one is faced with everyday of their life.
If I thought the pool was unique from the participation of the members, this gym will straighten out anyone with a poor attitude. A young man in a wheelchair moved himself aside when another man who tied up his golden retriever, was led in by his aide.
Apparently the blind man deserved to go ahead of him, he insisted. Two other men, another wheelchair bound, early forties man and an older man in his seventies joked one another as to who has the higher disability, to determine who had the right to take water from the cooler first. The man in the wheelchair was in worse shape and filled his cup. From the back of the room, as I power walk the treadmill, I typically would focus on my tunes. This day, at Beit Ha Lohem, with one look around the room I was distracted. I had never seen people work out so hard in all my forty years of exercising on a daily basis. Not a wheelchair, a partial paralysis, missing limbs and a variety of severe disabilities could stop these men and women. The equipment was top quality and the machines could accommodate anyone. Everyone in that room was on a mission, that was to make the best of their handicap. They pumped, they biked, and rowed and they stretched out on machines, particularly those who will never stand or walk again. The attitude was contagious, and it was invigorating and warm. Music of all types continuously played in the background and all the cardio machines are equipped with screens offering plenty of entertainment. Here there is no excuse for not getting into the program, courage was in the room, and the complaint department appeared to be closed. This was clearly the bedrock of Beit Ha Lohem. There was a different kind of compassion in the room, not the feeling sorry for anyone kind, but rather more disciplined and unquestionably understood.
The basket ball game was the highlight for me. I thought I had seen games back in New York City, but over here is a real unique talent and super exciting to witness. I was reeled in, mesmerized. The wheelchairs that these guys flew across the court on seemed to have no boundaries, as they got into the game, for their energy and their strength was fierce and powerful! Amazing and enjoyable, and I felt privileged to watch, it left an everlasting impression on my mind as I absorbed it completely.
The unexpected experience at this club outside Tel Aviv is truly a paradigm for others in the world to learn from. With unspoken words from so many members, I heard their message loud and clear. Each person set an example to anyone that crossed their path. Clearly they were thankful to be alive, and it seemed like they were quietly saying to themselves, “I will do the best I can to help myself heal and make progress,” from whatever it was that they were a victim of. Each person that I met or observed had a common bond, one of a very pleasant and warm attitude and they embraced me just as they do to one another.
The House of the Warriors ironically impresses, in the face of adversity, it is astoundingly happy, positive and a most uplifting environment. Like my husband told me from the beginning, there is no choice but to go on and live life. In Israel they are making a point of it.
How dare I have thought not to visit and take part in Beit Ha Lohem. I left with a huge smile and a spring in my step. No wonder groups from all countries and different types of tours to Israel, as well as universities also within the country are visiting. Any time spent here could not ever be forgotten, for it is a one of a kind, as the facility was created to be.