Dana Ophir was severely wounded in a car-ramming terror attack in Jerusalem, but now she’s taking a heartwarming journey back to life.
Ophir had been working hard to become a combat trainer in the IDF and was in the midst of an intensive training course that would land her the coveted title of officer when the unimaginable occurred.
“We were let off at the Armon Hanatziv promenade and began unloading the bags from the baggage compartment,” says Ophir, recounting the chilling sequence of events that left her hanging between life and death. “Out of nowhere, a truck came barreling toward us at full speed and smashed into us.”
Since her injury, Ophir has been fighting to return to life and reclaim her shattered dreams.
“I joined the army in December 2015 following two years of intensive combat training, and I was eager to scale to the top of the IDF. I’d completed a personal combat-training course in Wingate Institute, and I was pursuing my dream of becoming a combat unit trainer. The moment that I’d been waiting for finally materialized, and I was on my way to the Officers’ School in Bahad 1 (Training Base). I followed the path of the talented, motivated cadet and was nearing the end of my training, already anticipating the ceremony and badge. I was mere days away from fulfilling my lifelong dream of becoming a combat training officer.
“And then just two weeks before I was there, my world came crashing down on me. Twenty-eight seconds changed my life."
That cold Sunday morning in January 2017 started out as nondescript as any other. Ophir returned to Jerusalem after a weekend at home with the family, ready to commence a week of lighter studies. They were nearing the end of the course, and this week was devoted to instruction. She and her friends could already inhale the heady scent of graduation.
“We stood there in the parking lot in Armon Hanatziv, chatting about nothing in particular and looking forward to a relaxed week spent absorbing Jerusalem’s history. Out of nowhere, a terrorist appeared in a huge truck and simply ran us all down. He flattened us beneath his wheels and then reversed to hit us again. I watched my friends die.”
Ophir would learn later that the terrorist was a resident of the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood of Jerusalem, who spotted a group of soldiers and seized the opportunity to attack.
“I didn’t see him. It was so fast that we didn’t hear the truck. All we heard was somebody scream, ‘Watch out!’ and suddenly, pain exploded everywhere as the truck made contact with my body. I fell forward on my face and rolled several times. Then I found myself laying on the grass with my legs and arms splayed at odd angles. I didn’t understand what was going on. All I heard was the roar of an engine, yelling, gunshots. People were screaming and crying, utter chaos. My legs and pelvis hurt in a way that I didn’t think was possible, and I shrieked in agony. I tried to get up, but I couldn’t move, and gravity kept me pinned to the ground. At the time, I didn’t even realize that it was a terrorist attack. I couldn’t think of anything but the raw, blinding pain.
“Before long, I was surrounded by medics from my platoon debating how to lift me because, at that point, they had no idea where I’d been wounded. Finally, a paramedic arrived and told them what to do. They lifted me onto a stretcher and took me to the hospital. The adrenaline racing through my body kept me completely conscious and lucid, and I talked naturally throughout the whole ride to the hospital, which is why they originally thought that I’d sustained only light wounds. It took time before we’d learn that my injuries were much worse than that...”
Ophir lay in a hospital bed, hooked up to machinery and monitors, with morphine pumped constantly into her body to alleviate some of the excruciating pain.
“I was broken inside and out. I couldn’t move, shower, or even eat, and I was fed by IV. There were times when all I could do was cry.”
Due to severe internal bleeding, the doctors were unable to operate immediately on Ophir, and four days passed before she was able to undergo surgery to repair her shattered pelvis using titanium plates and screws. The hours-long surgery was followed by a difficult recovery and her eventual transfer to the hospital’s Orthopedic Department and a wheelchair. After two-and-a-half weeks, Ophir was released from the hospital to her house, still in a wheelchair, with firm orders to avoid stepping on her feet.
“From a young woman who could run 10 miles without losing my breath, I became a total invalid. My mother had to physically shower me! Worst of all, the doctors still couldn’t tell me if I’d ever been able to walk again. With all that metal filling my body, I taught myself how to walk again – taking one baby step at a time.
“I knew that I – and only I – was responsible for my future and fate. There were days when I cried for hours and asked what I’d done to deserve this, and other days that I felt that life was incredible, a true miracle and that I just needed to seize every moment. I have tremendous gratitude to my friends from all over the country who rallied in support of me – visiting, calling, sending gifts, and letting me know that I wasn’t alone.”
Ophir attended her graduation ceremony at Bahad 1 in a wheelchair. An order had been delivered that all the cadets who’d been injured in the attack would graduate alongside our peers. When she arrived, she was surrounded by her friends and teachers who hugged and cheered for her, but that didn’t make it any easier.
“It was tough watching my friends accept their badges while standing, hale and hearty, on their own two feet, while I was stuck in a wheelchair – but I also appreciated that I’d completed the course, and that was really important to me. My commanding officer, Maya, took her own officer’s badge off her uniform and clipped it to mine in a show of solidarity and appreciation, and after crying so much that I was sure that all the tears in the world were spent, I still couldn’t help but shed another tear – this one of emotion and pride.”
After a month in a wheelchair, Ophir began walking with crutches. For three months she endured agonizing physiotherapy sessions for three hours a day, four times a week, in addition to extensive training and practice at home. “I had to relearn everything – to stand, to walk. Every day I forced myself to do just a little more, for a little longer. Every day I experimented with a drill that was more challenging than yesterday’s, knowing that this was the only way I’d ever make it back to myself.”
A month after taking her first tentative step with her crutches, Ophir bid the sticks goodbye, and four months after her injury, experimented with her very first run.
“It was a completely different experience,” she recalls. “I had a new pelvis filled with metal. It wasn’t the light, carefree body of a young woman. Instead, I felt constantly awkward and uncomfortable as if I were part robot. I know that I’ll suffer physical pain for the rest of my life. The minute any pressure is exerted on my body, it hurts – and that’s not going to change.”
The ones who escorted Ophir throughout her heroic ordeal and who imbued her with strength and encouragement to go on were “the amazing folks at Belev Echad,” an American nonprofit geared to expressing appreciation from the collective Jewish nation to IDF veterans who devote their lives, at great physical peril, to safeguard the Jewish people in Israel.
“These soldiers are heroes who make incredible sacrifices on behalf of the Jewish people, and we owe them a massive debt of gratitude,” says founder Rabbi Uriel Vigler. “Our mission at Belev Echad is to strengthen them and support them.”
Throughout the period of Ophir’s surgeries, recovery and rehab, Belev Echad delegates visited her regularly, and when she was down and needed a break, even treated her to a trip of a lifetime to New York to offer her a change of scenery and help her regain her joie de vivre.
“The guys at Belev Echad are awesome. They did so much for me. They introduced me to other injured soldiers and terror victims who’ve suffered similar incidents, and that alone gave me so much strength to go on.”
Ophir didn’t give up her dream and was committed to returning to the army and combat training. “It was a long, difficult process, but today, I’m relearning how to be a trainer and am advancing at an amazing pace. This is the second year that I’m receiving a stipend from Belev Echad, which is enabling me to focus on my studies and forge ahead.”
In the course of a special evening at Belev Echad’s headquarters in Kiryat Ono, dozens of wounded IDF soldiers received scholarships that will enable them to acquire an education and realize their dreams.
“Too many wounded soldiers see their plans for the future as an impossibility,” says Shevy Vigler, who cofounded Belev Echad together with her husband. “We are grateful to be able to make a difference in the lives of wounded soldiers such as Ophir through our scholarship assistance program.”
To support Belev Echad’s efforts, see www.belevechad.nyc/donate