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    Visits to Israel used to be
    highlighted by sitting at
    the Kotel, going on
    tiyulim up north, shopping
    in the shuk, and eating
    shwarma throughout the
    country. For my past five
    visits since Simchas
    Torah, however, they have included something
    I had never done before: spending time at Tel
    HaShomer hospital visiting injured soldiers.
    Each time, we came to give chizuk, the bring
    good and positive energy, gifts, love, support,
    and boundless gratitude. Each time we left
    having in fact received the chizuk, in awe of
    young men missing limbs, battling wounds,
    forming what will be everlasting scars.
    On my trip to Israel this week I visited Tel
    HaShomer again, but this time to a unit I
    hadn’t been to previously and to visit soldiers
    with injuries that while certainly severe, are
    altogether different from what I had previously
    seen. Indeed, they are not visible at all.
    In addition to IDF soldiers in my family and
    our community, I have developed a
    relationship with several heroic soldiers over
    our visits the last nine months. A reservist
    who was full of life, energy, love, tenacity and
    faith when I met him, someone I have sung
    and danced with on his base, called me to say

    he is suffering and struggling. For the last
    couple of months, he has been crying and
    sobbing uncontrollably, having panic attacks,
    and feels filled with uncharacteristic anger and
    rage. He hasn’t slept or eaten properly. He is
    struggling at work and in his personal life. At
    the bris of his son, as he held the baby, he was
    suddenly transported back to his duties at the
    very beginning of the war and was shaken by
    the feeling that he was holding a dead body
    rather than his living newborn son.
    I visited him at Tel HaShomer where he had
    been admitted to the psychiatric ward with a
    diagnosis of PTSD. Once known as Shell
    Shock, Soldier’s Heart or Battle Fatigue, the
    condition we now know as Post-Traumatic
    Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects countless
    veterans of war. When I saw him, he was a
    shell of himself, a shadow of the person I first
    met. He was in pain from his condition, but he
    was also suffering from deep shame and
    embarrassment. He hadn’t shared with others,
    including those with whom he is very close,
    where he was or why. The unit he is in is filled
    with soldiers suffering with PTSD, most of
    whom battle it with shame and embarrassment.
    Many have turned to alcohol or drugs to numb
    them from the pain and emptiness. PTSD
    impacts not only the one diagnosed with it but
    their spouse, children, and entire family.
    I asked him, if you God forbid had an injury

    to a limb or organ, if in this war you
    were shot, or physically wounded,
    would you keep it to yourself? Would
    there be any shame or disgrace
    associated with your hospitalization
    or recovery? You would be a gibor, a
    hero of our people, deserving of
    endless support and boundless
    Why should it be any different just
    because your wounds are invisible to
    the naked eye? They are no more your
    fault, no more a source of shame, no
    less deserving of love, support, care,
    and recognition. Don’t feel obligated to share
    or tell others, I told him, but if you would
    benefit from love and support and the only
    reason you are keeping it to yourself is fear of
    stigma, I beg you to reconsider. He told me
    that unfortunately, it is simply not the way
    others see it for now and so he feels has no
    choice but to do it this way.
    I called his wife, whom we have come to
    know as well. She is home caring for their
    young children by herself. I begged, let me
    arrange with your community to provide
    meals, to help with childcare, to be a source of
    support during his recovery from an injury
    sustained while fighting in the Jewish people’s
    war. Isn’t that exactly what we would do if a
    heroic soldier was physically injured,
    recuperating in the hospital and the family
    needed help? She appreciated the concern
    but said that sadly, that isn’t the way others
    see it and so she has no choice but to deal
    with this privately.
    My heart broke not only from what they are
    going through in dealing with his trauma,
    injury, and wounds but how their pain and
    agony is compounded by the loneliness with
    which they are experiencing it.
    My young friends are far from alone. In
    the two months following October 7, an
    alarming 8,000 soldiers reported
    experiencing trauma. Recently, researchers
    from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
    Columbia University, Shalvata Mental
    Health Center in Hod Hasharon, and the
    Effective Altruism organization, published a
    study that predicts that 520,000 — or 5.3
    percent of the Israeli population — could
    develop PTSD as a result of October 7 and
    Israel’s ongoing war.
    Prof. Yair Bar-Haim, head of the National
    Center for Traumatic Stress and Resilience
    at Tel Aviv University, believes a more
    realistic number is 30,000 new cases of
    PTSD among Israelis as a result of the
    October 7 terror attacks and the war.
    Historically, Israeli soldiers have much
    lower rates of PTSD than other countries.
    According to the U.S. Department of
    Veterans Affairs, 30 percent of Vietnam
    veterans have had PTSD at some point in
    their lifetime. As much as 20 percent of
    veterans who served in Operations Iraqi
    Freedom or Enduring Freedom have PTSD.

    A variety of reasons have been suggested such
    as Israel having a civilian army, the whole
    country being exposed to terror, the visibility
    of soldiers in society regularly, and more.
    Whatever the true number of PTSD cases in
    Israel as a result of October 7 and the war, it is
    startling and is going to need tremendous
    treatment and support. The Jewish community
    responded swiftly and generously to help our
    heroic soldiers with equipment and supplies
    when the war began. But what will be needed
    next can’t get packed in a duffle bag and
    doesn’t get served at a barbecue.
    In Israel and abroad we must recognize that
    invisible injuries are just as real as physical
    ones. We must work to eliminate the stigma
    of mental and emotional illness and to create a
    culture and condition in which there is no
    shame or embarrassment and in which the
    community responds with love and support.
    My friend in Tel HaShomer shared with me:
    “A person like me suffering from PTSD
    doesn’t want people to look at them and treat
    them with pity and doesn’t want them asking
    all the time how I am and why I look upset or
    why I am not smiling. Just understand that
    they are going through a hard time and be
    there if they need.”
    Paid leave must be granted from work for
    those recovering from PTSD or mental illness,
    just as they would for those physically injured.
    Meals, childcare, financial help must be given
    for those with invisible wounds, just like they
    would for the family of a physically wounded
    soldier. Massive contributions must be
    collected to provide treatment and support for
    those recovering from PTSD. The names of
    soldiers and civilians struggling with PTSD or
    mental illness should without shame or stigma
    be included on Tehillim lists and added to
    MiShebeirachs. And people must be sensitive
    to this very real condition, and not minimize it
    by using the term to describe what it feels like
    when they were stuck in traffic or when
    Starbucks messed up their order.
    As Israel is still fighting the longest war in its
    history, the risk of fatigue setting in is real and
    concerning. When it comes to the mental
    health and wellness of our soldiers and
    brothers and sisters, we may just be at the
    beginning. May my dear friend whom I truly
    love, together with all those needing physical,
    mental and emotional refuah shleimas, have a
    speedy, painless and complete recovery.