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Monday, September 08, 2008

Israel's paralympians

Israel has 43 representatives at the Paralympics currently going on in Beijing. Our paralympians are actually considered quite good and are expected to win more medals than our 'real' Olympic team won. Many of Israel's paralympians are war wounded. This is the story of Shai Haim, who was wounded in fighting with 'Palestinian' terrorists in Jenin in 2002. He's now a paralympic basketball player on Israel's national team. Ironically, the story is written by (Rabbi) Stewart Weiss, whose son Ari - Shai's best friend - was killed in the same battle.
Shai's saga begins in the army, where he served in an elite anti-commando unit in the Nahal Brigade. He was the beefiest, toughest kid in the outfit, with huge forearms and a barrel-chested physique. His fellow soldiers joked that they liked to stand behind him during missions, so he would block incoming fire. "It was a bitter joke," they would later confess. On September 30, 2002, Shai's unit was part of a raid on Hamas headquarters in Nablus's infamous casbah, where they uncovered a treasure-trove of information on that group's terrorist activities, including lists of terrorists and planned attacks.

In the midst of their mission, the unit came under fire from snipers in a nearby building. Shai was hit first and slumped to the ground. His best friend in the unit, our son St.-Sgt. Ari Weiss, rushed to his side to help him and was shot in the process; Ari was killed instantly by a bullet that punctured his lung.

BUT SHAI survived. He was rushed to a field hospital in Shavei Shomron, and then to Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer. The bullet had lodged near his spine, and he underwent emergency surgery. Just before going into the operating room, before he lost consciousness, Shai scribbled on a piece of paper, "My friend Ari was killed; please be sure I get to his funeral."

Surgeons removed Shai's kidney and saved his life, but they could not remove the bullet or repair the damage to his nervous system. After 48 hours, the doctors announced that Shai would live, but he would never walk again.

Lesser people might have succumbed to depression, or resignation, but Shai refused to do so. He had always been an athlete, excelling in handball, and one of his first questions to his therapist was whether he would have to forego all sports. "Not if you don't want to," he was told. "You and only you will determine what you can do from now on."

That was all Shai needed to hear.
Much is being made of the fact that US Presidential candidate John McCain still suffers from the effects of war wounds. Yesterday, I saw a heart-rending yet heart-warming ad supporting McCain that is apparently not yet part of his campaign (Hat Tip: M. Bensson-Levi via Little Green Footballs). But my sense is that the visibility of war-wounded in the public sphere in the US is still relatively uncommon. Here, with nearly constant wars and terror attacks for more than sixty years, seeing the walking wounded is unfortunately almost routine. But an inspirational story like Shai's is still a rarity.

Read the whole thing. It will make your day.


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