Offering Possibilities for Disabled Veterans in Israel
As the Director of the Cultural and Social Activities Department at Beit Halochem, an organization that supports disabled veterans in Israel, Limor Porat has seen hundreds of people’s lives positively transformed. During her MOMentum Trip, she learned about one more. After sharing the organization’s mission with 200 JWRP sisters, Keren Berman, a JWRP sister from Orange County, shared that her father was a diver in the Israeli Navy and has received vital rehabilitative support at Beit Halochem. Later that week, Limor, Keren, and Keren’s father visited Beit Halochem together, bringing Keren a sense of closure and reminding Limor just how widespread her organization’s efforts span. In our conversation with Limor, she spoke about the life-changing assistance that Israel provides its wounded soldiers, as well as her family’s fascinating story that inspires her work.
Can you tell us about your MOMentum journey?
I’m the mother of three girls, and I thought that MOMentum would be an empowering experience for me. After getting divorced three years ago, I faced a difficult time in my life. I knew that MOMentum would give me the chance to connect to Jewish values and focus on myself and my soul. I enjoyed every minute of it — meeting women from all over the world and being a tourist in my own country. I returned home feeling much stronger and excited to stay involved with the JWRP Community in Israel.
How does Beit Halochem help Israel’s disabled veterans?
Beit Halochem was created in 1949 after Israel’s War for Independence to address the urgent needs of 6,000 disabled veterans. Today, we have about 50,000 members. When you’re wounded, your whole life changes. You may have lost a limb, be blind, or be wheelchair-bound. Some wounded veterans can no longer work.
The State of Israel provides disabled veterans with financial support, and Beit Halochem protects their rights, improves their economic and social conditions, provides them with medical support, rehabilitates them, and integrates them into society. With a few locations throughout Israel, Beit Halochem provides athletic activities that are tailored to people in wheelchairs, creative workshops, trips, English classes, computer classes, exhibitions where our members can exhibit their incredible creations, and so much more. Israel is home to many Paralympic Game medalists, and many of them train at Beit Halochem. Most importantly, we provide our veterans with a home — a place where they can grow and feel comfortable in their own skin.
What is it like to work at Beit Halochem?
At first, it was painful to see disabled soldiers, who are blind or wheelchair-bound. But working at Beit Halochem has increased my sensitivity, strengthened my giving muscle, and turned me into a better listener. Our members are strong and determined and they teach me how to see the glass as half full instead of as half empty. Even when their days are dark, they don’t give up. They continue to look toward the future. They truly exhibit the victory of the human spirit over their bodies’ limitations.
What inspired you to work at Beit Halochem?
I descend from the largest family of dwarfs who survived the Holocaust. Before the war, they performed in a troop and sang Jewish folk songs across Europe. In 1944, they were taken to Auschwitz. When the Nazi guards saw them, they ran to tell Dr. Mengele, a cruel Nazi doctor who performed evil experiments on people. Dr. Mengele separated my family from the rest of the Jewish people and allowed them to bring family members who were not dwarfs as well. My family began pointing at their friends and neighbors, claiming that they, too, were family members. In total, they saved 22 people. Dr. Mengele did many tests on my family and caused them a lot of pain, but he also kept them alive. After the Holocaust, my family immigrated to Israel.
In Israel, as in most places in the world, buildings, stores, and transportation are not accessible for dwarfs. So, my family helped our family members with everything. All of my life, I saw how my parents supported our family members with disabilities, and it inspired me to do the work that I do today.
Can you tell us about one veteran whose journey has touched you?
Yarden Hershko enlisted in the Israeli Army in 2007 and was accepted to the combat unit for men and women. During a grueling training, she was wounded. She expected to experience complete rehabilitation, but unfortunately, she has been in a wheelchair ever since. After spending many months in the hospital, she joined Beit Halochem’s wheelchair basketball team. When she plays, she has said that she feels like the old Yarden again.
What are some things that can make a positive difference for disabled veterans?
They need to see that they’re not alone and that they can enjoy activities, play sports, and socialize. They need to have a place where they can feel like they’re home — where everything is accessible to them and where they are surrounded by people who understand their reality. Once they experience all of this, they can begin to envision new possibilities for themselves. They can see that life goes on and that they can lead fulfilling lives.
Watch a video about Beit Halochem’s extraordinary work here: