On Thursday evening, November 17, I was honored to attend a special reception at Eden Gallery in the SoHo district of Manhattan. The event, produced by Ornit Dahari Atash, included a photo exhibition to benefit IDF soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over 60 of Israel’s top celebrities and government leaders had been photographed alongside veterans to raise awareness about PTSD, such as prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu; former president Reuven Rivlin; IDF chief Aviv Kohavi and former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi; Consul General of Israel Asaf Zamir; UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan; Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai; and Netflix’s Fauda stars Rona-Lee Shimon and Tsahi Halevi.
The event was hosted by Fauda stars Inbar Lavi and Doron Ben-David, as well as the organizers who helped make this special evening possible. At the gala, Atash thanked brave IDF soldiers Lior, Amit and Yair, who shared their moving stories of survival, in which they inspired the whole room and brought everyone to tears. The guest of honor, Israeli singer Raviv Kaner, flew to New York for the event to show his support.
The event was supported by a dream team who helped to operate the evening with Atash. These included Jessica Matarese, Daniel Rees and her right hand, Noy Assraf Azran. Yaarit Shoshan, the founder of SOS ISRAEL, is the mind behind the exhibition. Shoshan worked with well-known philanthropist and owner of Nofar Energy, Ofer Yanai, to gather 60 influential figures who agreed to be photographed as a part of the installation. Lior Nir also spoke at the event.
Raising awareness about PTSD
The 40-year-old photographer and father of two served as a combat medic in the Nahal brigade from 2000-2003 and was wounded several times, including in the Second Lebanon War. In the exhibit, he is photographed with former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. Shir Peled also spoke. She was the first Israeli woman in the special forces undercover unit, made famous by the hit television series Fauda. Peled served in the IDF between 2002-2006 and today lectures in Israel and internationally.
Consul-General of New York Asaf Zamir thanked the audience in attendance and those who flew in from Israel to take part in this special evening. He said that this event could easily have taken place in Tel Aviv but was happening in New York instead. He said that he goes to events in NYC almost every day but conveyed that the room is not always as filled with Israelis as that night in SoHo.
This spoke volumes as to the importance of raising awareness for the group of people in Israel who experienced trauma during their military service in combat. As someone who grew up in Israel, he said it was something that wasn’t always talked about up until a few years ago. We speak about and commemorate the people that we lost and have learned as best as we can to take care of the people who were physically wounded.
However, as we do these important things, we have never fully acknowledged the people who were mentally affected during their combat service and continue suffering their whole lives for the same reasons others who have sacrificed did and in order to ensure the security of our homeland and our right to defend ourselves. If you live in the United States and you have been here for the past few years, you know that it is not a given, he said.
It’s not a given anymore that Jews have our own country and our right to defend ourselves. The fact that it’s not a given makes this group of people so special. We have over 60 people who dedicated themselves to this project, and that is why there are so many people in attendance and why people understand the importance of this organization. We are joining forces to make sure that no one is left behind and that we take care of our own, he stressed.
As the evening drew to a close, Peled said she was there that night to represent Duvdevan, the unit that is portrayed in the Netflix series Fauda. Duvdevan soldiers are among the highest number of combatants who have PTSD. To understand what happens to some of these soldiers after they serve in the unit, we must understand what makes Duvdevan so powerful and efficient. Every unit has its own motto.
Duvdevan’s motto is “And by interception, we shall make war.” What follows is that the soldiers have two enemies inside of them. Two entities that are at war.
In order for them to become their enemy, the soldiers have to have personal traits that are opposite to their beliefs and their personality. After returning from a mission, for example, they are not allowed to share anything with their spouse, family or friends. It is a very isolating experience. They also learn that being visible puts them at risk. Finally, they learn in life to win and to serve their unit very well.
In the first 36 years of Israel’s existence, there were five wars. It means that Israel was built on trauma. The bulk of soldiers who came from the Holocaust had their pain ignored because they had to help build a country. All of the physical and emotional casualties of the war were ignored, and there was no room for empathy because there was a mission at hand, and that was building a country.
Today, Israel is becoming a stronger and a larger state, and the sacrifices that are made are becoming more and more rare. Now it is the time to show empathy. The men that you see in the photos on the wall and who attended the gala event made a great sacrifice for the State of Israel. But when these men try to integrate back into society, they are met with the bureaucracy of Israel.
In the last 10 years, Ofer Yannay was working in the renewable energy sector in Israel and growing his company with small financing, which is now quite big. In society, he has seen good people who have done mean things, and they don’t understand that they are doing wrong things. What we need to do is educate them. Ofer’s hope is that from here, there will be a message that resonates regarding what we can do collectively to do the right thing as a nation, Peled emphasized.
At the gala, I had the opportunity to meet Ofer Yannay, who played an instrumental role in helping to make the event a success. I told him it was a wonderful gala that really showed how much we appreciate the brave IDF soldiers. Yannay was originally approached by Atash (the producer), who told him she had a crazy idea.
She wanted to produce a SoHo exhibition in New York City, hosting in such an iconic area to stir up the momentum and create a public debate and conversation regarding this issue.
The concept was to take more than 60 photographs of soldiers with well-known figures but not to highlight who those figures were. Instead of a person, an individual or a renowned name, she wanted to show the faces of Israel’s heroic soldiers who had been wounded and place them side by side with the celebs.
When you give the name of the celebrity, it takes away from the soldier. Instead, they placed the name of the soldier, who had so much importance in terms of sacrifice. When you think of these kids and what they were able to do, they risked their lives for the well-being of Israel.
Think of a 22-year-old being in a state of severe trauma and hanging in a state of limbo between life and death for a few hours. Afterwards, when he tries to integrate back into society, he meets bureaucrats and receives even more problems. Is this the way one wants to be treated? I don’t think so. But this is the way it happens.
In order to fix it, we need to do it in Israel. Yannay works as a developer of renewable energy. In the last few years, he has spent a good amount of time with Israeli bureaucrats. They are good people, he says, but they need to be educated about this issue. Everything we do as an influence to those who are above goes all the way down the chain. His hope from that evening was that we can start making that change.
Yannay went on to recount the story of the picture he is in with a soldier. It is a black-and-white photo, but he is wearing red shoes. He requested that the color of his shoes remain red. Many people have seen the film Schindler’s List and know the power behind that dash of color in the film.
When you see the red in the photo, you understand that there is a human connection there. The soldier in the picture with him is Doron Davidovitch, who was wounded in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
They thought he was dead (he was unconscious after being in a fierce fight), but he wasn’t. He played dead. His friend who was lying next to him was killed in action (and another friend who was two minutes away from him), and he lay there for nine hours pretending to be dead. Finally, when the IDF arrived, he let them know he was alive, and they immediately took him to the hospital.
This is the embodiment of the phrase Gam ki elech be’guy tzalmavet (“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death”). That was as close as it gets to the gates of death, yet he survived and lives to tell his story.
It was a memorable evening in which full recognition was given to Israel’s heroic IDF soldiers, which was portrayed through art as well.
Emotions ran deep. One must always understand that when soldiers go to war, the scars they may have are not only physical but also emotional.
May we always show our deepest appreciation for those who put their life at risk, and may we reunite in good health and in good times for many years to come. ■
The writer received his undergraduate degree in business (cum laude) from Yeshiva University and his MBA with double distinction from Long Island University. He is a financial adviser who lives in New York City and is involved in Israel-based and Jewish advocacy organizations.