“As we moved forward, the explosive devices and booby traps we had not detected blew up … one of these explosions changed my life forever.”
Yom Ha’atzmaut is the time to celebrate Israel’s independence. It is also a time for us to remember the disabled veterans of Israel — like Matan Berman — whose lives were transformed as they continued the fight for freedom.
Matan comes from a family of deeply dedicated Zionists. His grandfather was critically wounded by a land mine while serving in the Jewish Brigade, and his father served for many years in the Israeli Navy.
Matan wanted to join the most prestigious combat unit he could. His love of dogs led him to enlist in the IDF’s canine unit, OKETZ, a special division of the paratroopers.
When the Second Intifada broke out in September 2000, Matan’s unit was sent to the Gaza Strip. The area was filled with explosive devices and booby traps. His unit was working diligently at defusing the bombs when one exploded, wounding Matan severely and killing three members of his unit.
Matan’s leg, which was previously injured during training, was now far worse. A routine surgery that was supposed to fix the problem was unsuccessful. He was left in excruciating and unrelenting pain.
Besides the physical injury, Matan was plagued by terrible post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that went undiagnosed for years. He blamed himself for the loss of his three friends even though an army investigative report concluded that he could not have saved them.
Matan was suffering horribly — physically and psychologically — even attempting suicide on several different occasions. He ended up in a psychiatric facility, where he underwent intensive treatment for his PTSD and was finally diagnosed as suffering from a rare Chronic Pain Syndrome.
His pain was so severe that he felt relieved when the decision was made to amputate his leg. Last year, the surgery took place and the anguished-filled years of agony were finally over. However the long road to learning how to function with a prosthetic leg and to overcoming PTSD was just beginning.
It was then that Beit Halochem came into Matan’s life.
He’d been receiving physiotherapy twice a week. Now, with great determination, he began swimming vigorously at Haifa’s Beit Halochem. He started riding a hand bike and taking skiing lessons on the slopes of Mt. Hermon — a program that is fully funded by Beit Halochem Canada. He also became a member of the wheelchair dance troupe at Beit Halochem.
Every new skill he acquired at Beit Halochem has bolstered Matan’s strength and his courage. The friends he has made there — all wounded soldiers like himself — have given him a bond of companionship and support he thought he’d lost forever.
Beit Halochem has opened up a new world of hope for Matan, a world in which he can, for the first time in so long, see a future for himself.