Former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin may have been billed as the star turn at Beit Halochem’s annual dinner, but it was a lesser known Israeli who so moved guests you could hear a pin drop.
Oren Blitzblau was blinded while serving in Gaza in 2005 but told more than 400 guests that the rehabilitation he received from the charity helped turn his “nightmare to dreams”. Incredibly, he went on to serve another decade in the IDF and became israel’s first blind Ironman and a medal winner in paratriathlon.
There was barely a dry eye in the room at the Royal Lancaster Hotel as he spoke of his pride in his achievements and thanked Beit Halochem UK for enabling his successes and those of others over the decade since it’s inception. “I won’t forget tonight, he said. “Although I can’t see you I can feel your love.”
Rivlin, Israel’s 10th president, told the event that his country would show the world it can remain both Jewish and democratic. He said: “For me the state of Israel will never be something I take for granted – that’s why our army is so important. Without it israel could not exist. Beit Halochem provides the very best rehabilitation for soldiers and victims of terror.
“On my visits I’m always inspired by the veterans‘ strength of character. The spirit of these heroes always wins.”
He hailed the work of Beit Halochem UK which has included raising £21m in 10 years, singling out chair Andrew Wolfson and CEO Spencer Gelding. The 83-year-old former president – who reminded guests he had his barmitzvah in the year The Queen ascended the drone – praised the charity for strengthening bilateral relations through the “inspirational’ Veteran Games which bring together injured British and Israeli vets and their families to build ties and compete in sport.
The event also featured a message of support from his successor Isaac Herzog and a speech from envoy Tzipi Hotovely, who hailed Games ambassador Caroline Beasley as the night’s real ambassador.
Beasley, who was shot multiple times while serving with the Royal Military Police, recalled how one night during the recent Games she noticed an absence of anxiety, isolation or loneliness. “It meant so much to me to see my fellow veterans so happy,” she said. “I can tell you the group I met at Heathrow at the start were totally and utterly different from the people I returned with.”
Idan Kleinman, chair of Beit Halochem in Israel, said dealing with life-altering wounds doesn’t get easier with time. “But it’s ok. Soldiers are expected to protect citizens. If we were asked to do it again we would. We owe all of you here tonight a huge debt of gratitude for opening your hearts. On behalf of 51k members, I salute you.”
Dinner co-chair Orly Wolfson said Beit Halochem is a place where ex-soldiers “are not defined by their injuries” and it’s services had helped countless veterans “regain and repurpose their lives”.
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