Books: A war memoir of inspiration and pathos

Asael Lubotzky’s tale of battle, wounding and rehabilitation is insightful, though bogged down in detail.

An Israeli tank moves along the border with Lebanon in August 2006 (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli tank moves along the border with Lebanon in August 2006
(photo credit: REUTERS)
From the Wilderness and Lebanon by Asael Lubotzky is a thought-provoking account of a young Israeli’s military service, wounding and rehabilitation during the Second Lebanon War.
Recently released in English, the short book became a best-seller in Hebrew following its publication in 2008.
The crux of the story is the double miracle Lubotzky endured: narrowly evading death when a missile hit his tank and his recovery against all odds.
Lubotzky’s story will speak to many Israelis.
Born in 1983, he grew up in Efrat, a twin and the eldest of six children. He passed through the typical stations of life of a religious boy, ultimately enrolling in a hesder yeshiva and becoming an officer in the Golani Brigade. He is a hevreman, salt of the earth, who gave his heart and body for the love of country.
The book opens as Gilad Schalit is kidnapped in June 2006. Lubotzky’s platoon is mobilized to Gaza to assist in the rescue operation. But plans change as Hezbollah attacks, killing three soldiers and resulting in the kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and leading to the outbreak of war.
Lubotzky’s passion, morality and sensitivity are evident. His descriptive writing reveals his commitment to his soldiers, family, community and faith.
The book’s title itself is a biblical reference.
He applies the phrase to his journey from Gaza to Lebanon as an analogy for his long journey from fit military leader to handicapped veteran. Ultimately, it’s his long and trying rehabilitation that leads him to enroll in medical school.
Lubotzky is now a physician at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
The first two-thirds of the book describe military operations. On one hand, the meticulous recounting of the actions and his dilemmas helps us feel as though we are living through them with Lubotzky.
“Operational needs are, of course, a primary concern, but one cannot ignore the fact that the decision may have profound consequences. I tried to keep the teams cohesive, and to appoint men who were suited to the task and fresh for action. But should I also consider the personal and family situation of the soldier? Ought I to have special concern for a soldier from a family already bereaved?” On the other hand, the exhaustive military detail mires down the narrative’s rhythm. Only people who have served in the army will fully appreciate it, and readers may ask why it was translated at all.
This protracted section leads up to “The Hit.” Lubotzky sticks his head out of the tank, contravening safety standards. When the antitank missile hits, his legs suffer the blow that otherwise would have killed him.
The immensity of his escape is palpable.
In the last third of the book, he provides an insider’s account of the aftermath of a war wounding, sadly a very common occurrence in Israel. In what is the greatest achievement of From the Wilderness and Lebanon, Lubotzky guides us through what transpires after someone is declared “seriously wounded” in a news alert.
He also shares the process of soul-searching that concluded with writing the book; the risks his doctors took to save his leg; and the tremendous support he receives from his family, friends, fellow wounded war veterans and complete strangers.
“My mother established a close friendship with several other mothers and continued to keep in touch, even though their original contact only lasted a few days,” he wrote. “Some days last forever.”
Toward the end, he describes his ordeal, his fears, and his challenges more eloquently. We see him more as a human being, and it makes the text much more engaging.
Though his introspections are authentic and heartfelt, his prose is naïve and loaded with pathos. His is a world where everyone (on the Israeli side, at least) is righteous and dedicated fully to the cause.
“We fought in a Jewish army guarding Israel on the principle that ‘Jewish blood can no longer be ignored’; we attacked those who rose against us and we were wounded while holding weapons in our hands,” he wrote. “On gazing back at the history of the Jewish people, this has great significance.”
I suspect that the excess bravado was partly a result of the stiff translation by Murray Roston (the author’s grandfather).
I could hear Lubotzky’s Israeli accent in my head throughout.
From the Wilderness and Lebano
n is an inspirational and worthwhile tale.
Though it has the potential to show the world an element of our ongoing war that it rarely hears about, the excessive detail and pathos diminish its impact.