What I learned after spending a day with 12 wounded IDF soldiers

Every year, an incredible non-profit called Belev Echad brings groups of wounded Israeli soldiers to New York on a 10 day “tour of happiness,” as a gesture of gratitude for their service. They go everywhere from the NY Stock Exchange & Wall Street, Dave & Busters, the One World Observatory, the Highline, and of course, a full day of shopping at the mall.

For the second time, I got to “volunteer” to spend my day with the soldiers and do my best as their personal shopper 💁🏼‍ . These guys had me picking out clothes, gifts for their girlfriends back home, the latest Nike sneakers, sunglasses, and Abercrombie colognes.

The best part of all was that I got to talk to them all day (with my very broken Hebrew) and listen to their stories. It amazes me, knowing what they’ve been through, how optimistic and excited they were. We walked around a giant mall for hours and they never complained or talked about their pain. Instead, they enthusiastically shared their stories and photos at Madame Tussaud’s and Times Square, and told me about their friends and family back home. Had I not known them, I would’ve never guessed some of these guys have been shot, injured from explosions and attacks and are still suffering from severe physical pain and PTSD.

I learned how much they really do suffer every day. They say the worst part is dealing with PTSD, which prevents them from having normal sleep, affects their memory, and leaves them feeling in a constant state of fear and trauma. This means that aside from their physical therapy, they also see psychologists that help them deal with the symptoms. While I assumed Israelis know what to expect when they join the army, I learned you can never really be prepared. Some said they felt like they went in as careless kids and quickly had their innocence taken away forever. The war lives on with them every single day even though they’re no longer serving in the army.

Belev Echad is an example of the massive difference we can make in other people’s lives by giving them love, support and the opportunity to do things I most certaintly take for granted here in NYC. After spending a day with them, I went home feeling immense gratitude for their perseverance, bravery, and willingness to open up and share their stories even though it’s not an easy thing for them to talk about and bring to life. They all thanked me as I left for “volunteering” my time, but they have no idea how much I got out of it. There is nothing more inspiring as I’ve been unemployed and looking for work than these guys, who continue to live powerfully and follow their dreams despite their circumstances.