Mutual responsibility: A story of resilience

Kol yisrael arevim ze le ze; we’re all responsible for each other.

 Dvir Dimri at the site of the Surfside collapse (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dvir Dimri at the site of the Surfside collapse
(photo credit: Courtesy)

A perfect day. July 10, 2020. The 18th of Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar, right after the fast for the ancient breaching of the walls of Jerusalem.

A perfect day – that’s what Dvir Dimri, 37, is thinking about his family trip to the Kinneret. He, and his wife, Adi, kayaked and played and swam with six children in the balmy water, relaxing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee’s Green Beach. His mother-in-law, Yehudit, came, too, and they unexpectedly met two families of friends with their children, which added to the fun.

Dimri, a CEO of a real estate investment company and a volunteer driver for Magen David Adom in Efrat, thinks back to a different memorable visit to the Kinneret almost exactly six years earlier. They were on home-leave in the middle of a four-year stint as Jewish Agency emissaries to Chicago where he and Adi taught in Skokie’s Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. His phone rang. His infantry reserve unit wanted him to know they were heading to Gaza, but they understood that he was in Chicago. “No,” said Dimri. “I’m in Israel.” He left Adi at the beach with the children, and – like two of his mobilized brothers – served in Operation Protective Edge. Amid the fighting, a giant package of goodies arrived from Chicago. When they returned to Chicago to finish their service abroad, Dimri spoke for Israel on many platforms.

Now, on this sunny, perfect day, as they pack up their blankets and towels to spend Shabbat in a rental apartment in Safed, Dimri asks Adi if she would mind if he takes a short solo swim. The Hebrew University pool where he swims three times a week is about to be closed because of coronavirus restrictions.

He glances at the sun – still high enough in the sky for them to easily reach Safed before Shabbat. All they have to do is put the cholent from a famous Safed eatery on the hotplate. He dives in, reaching the marking for permissible swimming. So beautiful. Then he looks up and sees to his horror that a large red speedboat is racing toward him. Seconds later it crashes into his body. Everything goes black. In a moment that he has imagined in battle, he is facing death. Ana Hashem hoshyia na, please God save me. The words come with the images of Adi and their six children. He can’t move his arms but finds he can move his legs and he kicks, kicks, kicks for his life.

 Dimri with Dr. Arie Chetboun (credit: HADASSAH SPOKESPERSON) Dimri with Dr. Arie Chetboun (credit: HADASSAH SPOKESPERSON)

The boat driver hasn’t even seen him, and only realizes what has happened when he sees the bloodied churning water from the kicking. As Dimri is lifted into the boat, he sees his injury – bone, muscles, blood in his right arm, his chest and abdomen gushing blood. “I told the people on board to call Magen David Adom and to say that #19992 is badly injured. Send a helicopter. Then they called my wife.”

No helicopter. The medics know he needs the closest emergency room. His mother-in-law, a nurse, comes with him in the ambulance. The surgeon on duty opts for amputation to save his life, but a physician brother-in-law has found a surgical team that will try to save Dimri’s right arm.

After stabilizing the bleeding, the ambulance races south to Jerusalem.

Dr. Arie Chetboun is having Shabbat dinner with his wife and four children at his sister’s home in Modi’in when his phone rings. The French-immigrant orthopedic surgeon has also spent the day on the waterfront, in Herzliya, where the family has moved from Paris. They are fulfilling their Zionist dream to live in Israel, and by the sea, even though Chetboun, who specializing in repairing arms and hands works in Jerusalem at Hadassah Medical Organization. He says, “I was told a seriously injured young man was on his way to the hospital, but you can never be sure how serious it is until you see for yourself. I left immediately.”

Dimri loses consciousness as they reach Jerusalem. He’s hurried into the trauma center, and then moved down the corridor to the underground operating rooms, where Chetboun sees him.

“I remember thinking, ‘He’s too young to lose his arm.’ It’s more complicated to reconstruct the blood vessels, the nerves, the bones, the skin. In addition there were propeller parts and contaminated water in the wounds.”

For seven hours Chetboun and his team build back Dimri’s arm. “We did whatever we could, but the results are up to the Creator of the World.”

The two men meet two days later when Dimri is awakened in the intensive care unit.

Says Chetboun: “From the beginning I could see that he is a special person, not afraid of whatever would be ahead of him in the additional surgeries and rehab. Yes, you need a good medical team, but a patient’s willingness to take on the often painful rehab matters, too.”

And so Dvir Dimri pushes on, through two additional surgeries and months of sometimes excruciating rehab at the Hadassah Mount Scopus Rehabilitation Center.

He regains most of the use of his arm. He can’t, for example, put change in his right pants pocket.

Still, when the call comes to him last June 27, oddly also on the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, requesting Dimri for the Israeli medical-relief agency SSF-Rescuers Without Borders mission to Florida, he doesn’t hesitate. Three days earlier the Champlain Towers South building collapsed in Surfside trapping many of the residents. With his team’s experience, they will join the search and digging, and if needed, help with the sanctification of the dead, and pray together with the community.

“Just as the Jewish community of Chicago was with me when I was fighting in Gaza, I wanted to show that I was with our brethren in America in this crisis. Kol yisrael arevim ze le ze, we’re all responsible for each other. We’re all family.”

What he didn’t know until recently is just how close that family is. The injured Dimri was already unconscious when he arrived at the hospital and anyway might not have noticed the large plaque in the corridor. If he had, the name might have sounded familiar. Among those found among the Surfside dead when he was there, were three members of a Jewish family from Puerto Rico, major donors to the emergency center where Dimri’s life and arm were saved.

As Dimri says, kol yisrael arevim ze le ze.

The writer is the Israel director of public relations at Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Her latest book is A Daughter of Many Mothers.