As we celebrate Veterans Day today, we give thanks for all those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy every day. The Fellowship supports Israel’s veterans throughout the year through several programs that provide needed financial and psychological help. Yoav’s story illustrates why this work is so important.
Yoav grew up in the bustling city of Tel Aviv, and at the age of 18, he – along with his entire graduating class – enlisted in the Israeli army. Yoav served in an infantry unit for more than two and a half years, and toward the end of his three-year service, he was transferred to a tank unit.
“I was two months into my training for the tank unit when the Yom Kippur War erupted,” Yoav said. And hours after the first shot was fired, Yoav’s unit found itself on the frontline of Israel’s northern defense against the encroaching Syrian army.
Yoav recalls the deadly battle that took place along the Syrian-Israeli border, which remains a tense spot today. “We were grossly outnumbered – there were 15 Syrian tanks for each one of ours, yet we somehow held the line for 24 hours,” Yoav said proudly.
But the Syrian army continued coming with a force that was too large for his platoon to hold back. Most of the Israeli tanks were destroyed, and Yoav’s tank was surrounded. “We fought until our last bullet,” he said. But he was eventually knocked unconscious, and the next thing he remembers is waking up inside a dark cell deep within enemy territory.
The next eight months of Yoav’s life were unbearable. He was only 20 years old, but he was already letting go of all his dreams and aspirations, as he imagined he would never step foot on friendly soil again. The Syrian army was cruel to Israeli prisoners of war, and Yoav endured intense interrogations, solitary confinement, and torture. The memories of this treatment continued to awaken him from his sleep at night long after he was freed in a prisoner exchange deal.
“I came back home and quickly resumed the life I had always wanted to live,” Yoav said about life after his rescue. He enrolled in Tel Aviv University and studied filmmaking, and he began a career producing Israeli movies.
For years, Yoav tried to ignore his memories of his time as a POW, and he assumed that life would eventually go on as normal. At the time, post-traumatic stress disorder was not a recognized condition in Israel. But Yoav started experiencing symptoms that were all associated with the trauma he underwent as a POW.
“I had bouts of rage so intense that I could throw a punch at someone for simply looking at me the wrong way,” Yoav recalled. He lost one job after the next, and was no longer able to work in a field he had been so passionate about.
“My wife and children suffered immensely as a dark cloud seemed to follow me everywhere I went,” Yoav explained sadly. In addition to his spontaneous explosions of rage, Yoav suffered from insomnia, he couldn’t follow a schedule, and he was unable to communicate with the people he loved most.
“My situation became unbearable and so my wife begged me to seek help,” Yoav said. In order to deal with PTSD, Yoav needed to join a support network, to participate in group sessions with others who were grappling with the same trauma and could relate to his suffering, and to receive constant therapy to heal his emotional pain.
The Fellowship-funded project Erim Balayla, or Awake at Night, provided Yoav with the help and support he needed to fix his life. Through this Fellowship project, Yoav has met hundreds of other former POWs who relate to his trauma. He goes to group meetings and workshops, and participates in therapeutic nature trips and extreme sports, all of which help him to overcome the torment that was consuming his life. Yoav explained that you cannot cure PTSD, but with The Fellowship’s aid, Israel’s war heroes are receiving the help they need to manage and minimize their suffering.
“The Fellowship project for former POWs has saved lives,” Yoav said. “It has given us a sense of hope, it has built up a community of soldiers who can help each other cope with the pain, and it has allowed us to receive the therapy we need to overcome our struggles.”