Psalm 77:14 “You are the God that works wonders…”
There are places where heartbreak and hope align. Where progress is measured in the tiniest increments. Where life is forever cleaved into ‘before’ and ‘after’.
The place I’m thinking of is the rehab division of Tel HaShomer hospital in Ramat Gan, Israel.
The person I’m thinking of is Netanel Felber, a 21-year-old Israeli soldier.
The ‘before’ is Netanel’s life up to the moment a Palestinian terrorist shot him in the head. The ‘after’ is every day since.
On December 13 a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at a bus stop near the Givat Assaf settlement. He killed two soldiers, Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef, 20, and Sgt. Yosef Cohen, 19, and gravely wounded Netanel.
Arrested on January 8, the terrorist is allegedly a member of a Hamas cell in the West Bank. He is also accused of carrying out a shooting attack in Ofra on December 9, wounding several Israelis, among them a pregnant woman. She survived, her baby did not.
Netanel is the cousin of my cousin. When the story broke, my cousin sent it to me, along with periodic updates.
The last update came while I was sitting at the airport six weeks ago, on my way to Israel.
I read of the Felber family’s efforts to stay upbeat, to maintain hope that their severely wounded son and brother will recover. “No weeping or despair allowed; upbeat, can-do attitudes encouraged.”
I texted my cousin this question: Would it be possible for me to visit Netanel and his family, on behalf of both of us? As a show of respect, solidarity, and comfort?
My cousin connected me to her cousin, Judi Felber, Netanel’s mother.
I asked Judi if I might visit, but only if it would be welcome. I am a stranger, asking for permission to enter their intimate circle.
The reply? You are not a stranger. You are family through our shared relatives and Am Yisrael.
That should tell you something about the Felber family.
On a Friday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, I entered Netanel’s hospital room. And there I saw what it looks like when heartbreak and hope align with unwavering devotion and unflagging optimism.
Netanel’s parents, sister, and brother seldom leave his side, staying at Tel HaShomer’s on-site lodging. They did the same for the first couple of months when Netanel was at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. This is their ‘new normal’. This is what it means to live in the space called ‘after’.
Nonetheless, the Felbers keep the atmosphere upbeat. They depend on that positive energy to lift them on the days when they are down.
On the Friday afternoon of my visit, the family was making a rare trip home to Ra’anana. A group of four friends from Netanel’s pre-army program had volunteered to provide Shabbat companionship to Netanel. The first young man arrived while I was there.
Netanel’s rabbi from his pre-army program was there too. Rav Uzi told me of Netanel’s deep devotion to Torah study. His favorite text is Chofetz Chaim, the book whose subject is the Torah laws that prohibit ‘lashon hara‘ (evil speech). That fits perfectly with Judi’s description of her son as a “sweet, caring young man who rarely complained or had a bad word to say about anyone.”
Netanel’s friends recently organized a week of ‘guarding your tongue’, studying Chofetz Chaim, their learning dedicated to Netanel’s recovery.
The outpouring of support goes well beyond family, friends, the rehab staff, and the IDF. Judi marveled at the way strangers have extended kindness and help: “People who we have never met come to visit and bring us food as if we are their closest family. They really think of themselves as family, and so do we. Israelis are really one big family.”
She continued: “One of our neighbors realized that we would need someone to wash our laundry while we were staying in the hotel on the hospital campus. She asked a local laundromat if they could do it. When the owner found out who it was for, he agreed to wash our laundry for free. He said it was the least he could do. I could go on and on.”
Meanwhile, the family is adjusting to being in a new time zone, “neuro rehab time.” Judi explains, “When we first got to the Neuro ICU, a nurse told me that time is different in that ward. Recovery is slooooow.”
Netanel remains gravely wounded; his prognosis is unclear. The medical professionals remind the Felbers that every case is different. They say they’ve seen miracles.
We are in the season of Pesach, the season of miracles.
And so, if there are still miracles left in this universe, let one of them materialize for Netanel Felber.
A miracle that will return him to the life he should be living, the life of a young man who is whole and healthy and strong.
A young man whose dreams are all still ahead of him.