Ahead of a weekend fundraiser for Beit Halochem UK, the charity’s Israeli chairman Edan Kleiman has promised Jewish readers here that no soldier will be left behind.
The organisation, which helps injured Israeli soldiers, says the numbers of those it helps is expected to grow by 30 percent after the war with Hamas in Gaza.
“We did a lot of amazing work since 7 October,” says Kleiman, who has shot and paralysed during a military operation in the Gazan city of Khan Younis in 1992.
Hamas stormed through the security fence in the morning of 7 October. “By the night, we’d opened an emergency 24/7 phone-line and took more than 3,000 calls.
“The next day, with the call centre now fully staffed by workers and volunteers, we called all 51,000 members to check up on them, to see if they were experiencing distress. We’ve had more than 150 cases every day, especially PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder].”
Kleiman said Beit Halochem – meaning ‘House of Warriors’ – opened all four of its centres under missiles. “The army asked us to close but we got an exemption,” said Kleiman, whose own father was wounded in the Yom Kippur War.
Israeli veterans of this war, in 1973, and of the Lebanon War, in 1982, were among those to have been especially vulnerable to distress in recent weeks, said Kleiman. “Some of these veterans took it [the events of 7 October] very badly.”
In the south, he said, there have been practical problems. “There, you only have 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter, so it’s tough if you have a leg or back problem, like some of our members. We evacuated more than 200 families from the south, even before the government was able to.”
Beit Halochem volunteers have been bringing food packages and medicines to members at home, and have visited every hospital in Israel, he said, “seeing newly injured soldiers, bringing them what they need from home – anything from clothes to cake to sunglasses”.
He added: “We’re running lots of special programmes for PTSD, mostly outside, because it helps with breathing. We’re cooperating with other parties to establish the treatment of PTSD now. You can’t wait until the end of the war. If you treat it quickly, the chance of recovery is higher, and the length of treatment is lower.
“Several of our programmes involve animals, which are shown to help. Others involve diving and swimming. We hired six more staff just for PTSD treatment – therapists, psychologists, those specialising from the transition from hospital to us.”
Kleiman said the organisation “had to take our 2024 budget and throw it in the bin” after the scale of the horrific attacks – and the IDF’s ground offensive in response – became clearer.
“We already did four intake meetings with the new wounded soldiers, especially from Israeli Navy Seals, who were wounded in the legs. We estimate that we’ll have 10,000 new members who have PTSD, and another 5,000 with physical disabilities.
“That’s 15,000 new members – a 30 percent increase in what we’ve got now. Already, since 7 October, we’ve got 2,000 new members who are physically wounded to such an extent that they will have disabilities for life.
“A total of 6,000 wounded Israeli soldiers have been wounded, but the other 4,000 are expected to recover.”
With a view to national fundraisers, Kleiman said: “We need to open 11 new ranches. In particular, we need a house in the north – Beth Kay – and a house in the south, in Ashdod. It’s on the beach and will be dedicated to PTSD treatment. We were working towards 2027 but it now needs to open much earlier.
“Beth Kay is already there. It’s a relaxed place, a nice environment, like a kibbutz. It closed four years ago but could reopen in 5-6 months. It has 94 rooms and can give injured soldiers and their families a week or two of really great support. We need NIS 30m for the north, NIS 80m for the south.”
Kleiman added that the nature of PTSD means that some returning soldiers won’t realise they have it until months or even years later, when something happens that triggers a reaction.
“Often, they don’t know they’ve got it. That’s why we need to open Ashdod in a year and a half because we know that these things come in waves. We’re expecting to be accepting new members for PTSD treatment the next two or three years.”
Asked if he had a message for Jewish News readers in the UK, Kleiman said: “My main message is: thank you. Thank you for supporting us.
“All those brave soldiers need our help to recover and get them back to society. We’re talking to industry to make sure there is a job there waiting for them when the time is right. It’s our duty and our privilege to do it. I promise that we will prevail and that we will help all the soldiers who need it.”
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