It fell out this year on the same day of the week as 11 years ago. Monday, August 14 – the day that changed my life’s path, and I did not even know.
On August 14, 2006, I was shocked that the army I admired and grew up on its heroic victorious saga, the IDF, could not fulfill its mandated mission to protect me and my fellow citizens.
The Second Lebanon War that had begun a month earlier was a defining moment in which Hezbollah turned our homefront into the frontline by firing thousands of rockets at civilians. From that war onward there has no longer been a frontline. We, the citizens in urban areas, were shot at nearly every hour.
On the night of August 11, as the UN Security Council approved Resolution 1701 to end the war, the IDF began a controversial ground operation to strengthen its grip on Southern Lebanon. The price was heavy, with 24 soldiers killed and over 60 wounded.
I was volunteering in the bombed city of Safed, and here is what I wrote that weekend:
“Shabbat afternoon, 12/08/06. We walked to the hospital with cookies and drinks to give the soldiers. Unfortunately, it was full of soldiers that had just arrived from the battlefields in Lebanon. After noticing the headlines in the TVs in several rooms, I felt ashamed to look them in the eye… They felt like sh*t. These young courageous guys fought bravely in a tough battle, witnessed their friends’ deaths in front of their eyes, risked their lives, came back wounded to their homeland and the first thing they heard is how their coward prime minister gave in to a ridiculous cease fire…Our Saturday night visit was cancelled due the pressure created by the intense flow of dozens of injured soldiers, and I ask myself: if we went to war to bring home the kidnapped soldiers and to beat Hezbollah and we’re agreeing to a deal which won’t promise either, how can we claim we won? Over 150 people killed and over a million people in bomb shelters for a month, for THIS?!?
Social media gives us a false feeling that we are making a change. It is partly true – actual actions following our posts are irreplaceable.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said every person has two choices in this world – to be a fan or a player. A fan sits in the stands and complains, while a player puts on a jersey and gets on the field to make a difference for his or her team.
Eleven years ago today, on August 14, following my email, I got an offer from the chairman of Thank Israeli Soldiers (Todah L’Tzahal) to start a program supporting the war’s wounded soldiers.
After many dilemmas, I realized I needed to leave my comfort zone and get on the court to change the game.
With the faces of the wounded, humiliated soldiers in my head, I began the Project “With You All the Way”, where young volunteers visited wounded soldiers countrywide every day, until the last one left the hospital a year later.
The project was acknowledged and respected by the hospital staff, the IDF, various NGOs working in the hospitals, and most importantly – by the wounded soldiers and their families. We made a difference and played a tremendous role in these young heroes’ rehabilitation.
I can write a series of columns just about the amazing lessons I learned in those days. In my lectures, I share the moments of struggle and triumph, the daily victories, and the perspective you get for your own life, as you learn to appreciate the fact that you can walk, breathe, hear, speak, and do other things we take for granted.
On August 14 my life changed, and I did not understand how deeply it affected me.
Seven months later, I was drafted to the IDF Armored Corps – the unit I had tried avoiding, whose public image was in the dirt, after its poor performance in the battlefields of Lebanon. I drafted with motivation, knowing I could make a difference.
Remembering the feeling of that August weekend, I knew I didn’t want to just be a combat soldier, but to make a difference. I ended up serving nearly 10 years as an officer.
On August 14 my life changed, and I did not even notice.
Any soldier or commander who served under me knew – a mission must be accomplished, without excuses.
Almost a year after my discharge, I can also point at the mistakes I made along the way. The main one was being too tough due to dedication to the mission, without sufficient consideration to the people behind. “You do not return until your mission is done!” a young major named Ariel Sharon once said. I used his quote as the motto for the company I led.
On August 14, as Decision 1701 was enforced, the IDF and the Israeli Society realized we need to go back to basics, and began a deep process of what I can dramatically call resurrection.
On August 14, as the hospitals were overwhelmed by the incoming flow of wounded soldiers, and the cemeteries filled with funerals, a new chapter was written in my life.
From a selfish teenager who cared for his ponytail and piercings I realized I had a role. I realized I could lead and make a difference. From that day on, wherever it was – in the hospital corridors, in the IDF, in Israel advocacy and more – a moment after the first furious thought, I ask – “What can I do to change this?”.
Today I can acknowledge it, and say – from bitterness we created sweetness, from pain I grew as a person and as a leader. On August 14, 2006, my life changed, due to one guy I can thank every morning — Hassan Nasrallah.
I invite you to take a different perspective as we face national and personal failures – we can all make a difference by acting. The social media can be a useful accessory to our course of action, helping us to spread the word and get more people involved with us in the field.
Instead of grunting, try writing a new page in your life, because we need you, Israel needs you – be a player, make a difference. If a young 18-year-old can, anyone can.