Following the success of last year’s program, an organization that assists disabled Israeli soldiers will sponsor a second delegation’s visit to Monmouth County this month.
From Aug. 24 to 31, seven soldiers — one with a personal aide — will come to the Jersey shore under the Achim Lachaim/Hope for Heroism program.
A nonprofit organization created in 2006 by disabled Israeli officers, Hope for Heroism has injured soldiers helping other wounded soldiers to aid in their mutual recovery and return to productive lives.
“Everything is done by the soldiers themselves,” said Rabbi Chaim Levine, the Seattle-based executive director of the organization.
Travel is a regular part of the program, said Levine, and other delegations have been welcomed into communities in Seattle, New York, South Africa, and Paris.
“The main idea is to give them the environment for them, if not to heal, at least to start somewhere,” said Yossi Teichman, an Ocean Township resident heading up the Monmouth visit. Teichman came to the United States from Israel in 1994.
“We’ve got a lot of good people wanting to help and assist,” he said.
Plans for the Israelis include visits to local beaches and boardwalks, New York City, Six Flags Great Adventure, and Atlantic City. They may also have a go at therapeutic horseback riding at a local center.
Sponsorship of these activities is coming from “all walks of life,” Teichman said, including area restaurants and stores, T-shirt makers, hotels, and amusement parks.
During their time down the shore, the soldiers will stay in a hotel together rather than at individual host homes, a decision, Teichman said, that is based on the camaraderie the hotel stay generates. Also the soldiers, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, tend to have difficulties sleeping.
The opportunities they have to bond with each other are among the program’s benefits. “The more they feed from each other, the more positive it is,” he said.
The group also avoids places with loud noises or fireworks, which can trigger the soldiers’ anxiety.
During last year’s visit, a couple of the soldiers who were in very bad shape emotionally were “smiling at the end,” Teichman said. “Every story is more amazing than another.”
Teichman referred to the case of Yossi Cohen, a paratrooper who was shot in a West Bank ambush in 2000 and survived three attempts on his life in one day. Now he is a positive influence on other wounded soldiers and will return for a second visit this summer with the group.
Last year’s group included eight soldiers.
“We certainly had our sun and fun,” said last year’s Israeli group leader Guy Preiss, himself a wounded soldier, in a statement. “But far more important than that and what has really stuck in our hearts and minds is that your community gave each of us a needed emotional lift.”
Monmouth residents also received a boost from their visit.
“A lot of us got more from the soldiers than the soldiers got from us,” said Teichman. He said his daughter was inspired to spend a semester in Israel after last summer’s program. Older children of last year’s local volunteers have formed Facebook friendships with the soldiers.
The endeavor is also bringing together groups of Jews who otherwise might not normally cooperate on programming, including the area’s Syrian and Ashkenazi communities.
“It’s bonding, Jewish bonding at its best,” Teichman said. “The soldiers are getting a lot out of it, and so are we.”