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‘Rehabilitating together’: Wounded Israeli veterans find relief, forge bonds in NY

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NEW YORK — David Axel was on patrol with the Border Police in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2015 when a terrorist approached him from behind and swung an ax at his head, missing by inches.

Axel grappled with the the attacker, who managed to flee. Axel then chased him through the narrow streets near the Damascus Gate, pushing bystanders aside before tackling him. He struggled to gain control of the assailant on the ground, as a crowd gathered around them.

“During the fight, he took out a knife and stabbed me in my leg,” Axel recalled. “I don’t remember too much from the scene because I lost a lot of blood. I can remember my officer coming to pick me up, take the knife with the blood, ask me if I’m okay.”

He spent two months in the hospital, and then a short time recuperating at home. He had only enlisted five months before the attack and wanted to finish his service with his friends.

“I finished the three years, but during these three years, there were a lot of signs of PTSD. But I didn’t tell anybody about it because they thought, ‘David is a hero, he’s okay.’ Nobody really knew what I was feeling,” Axel said.

After the military, he worked as a security guard for tour groups. When one of these groups approached the Old City, he became distressed and overwhelmed as his PTSD resurfaced. He decided to leave Israel days later.

While he was abroad, he got a message from Belev Echad, a support group for wounded veterans that organizes trips abroad, among other activities. He was skeptical, but agreed to meet them when he returned to Israel and joined the group for a trip in 2018.

“My parents couldn’t understand me, my friends, my sister, nobody,” he told The Times of Israel this week in New York. “I came on the trip, met amazing guys who can understand me better than a psychiatrist. We’re really good friends to this day.”

Axel was in New York City with the organization for the second time, now as a group leader, on Belev Echad’s latest trip abroad. The New York-based non-profit runs the tours for wounded Israel Defense Forces veterans to give them some fun, connect them with US Jews and let them bond with each other.

Rabbi Uriel Vigler and his wife Shevy organized the first tour for wounded soldiers in New York in 2010 as a one-off, local initiative. The veterans “enjoyed it immensely,” he said, and the local Jewish community “came out in droves. There were hundreds of people coming to Shabbat dinners and events.”

The group ran........

© The Times of Israel

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