For many years, my family has hosted disabled Israeli veterans through American Friends of Israel War Disabled Foundation (AFIWDF). By sponsoring two weeks of activities and welcoming the veterans into our home, we hope to help them in their rehabilitation.
The soldiers' disabilities range from post-traumatic stress disorder to physical infirmities. Their narratives and experiences are unique. In addition to the bonds the soldiers form with the Chicago participants, they also form deep friendships amongst themselves.
The first soldier my family hosted, Misha, stayed with us when I was 15. It didn't take long before he felt like a member of the family. He told me about his life in the army and how he was injured. It was heartbreaking to hear, but his courage was inspiring.
This past summer, on my JUF Birthright trip to Israel, Misha met me at my hotel. When he walked in the lobby, a friend said my face lit up. After a few minutes catching up, it was hard to believe five years had gone by since we first met.
This past year, Itzik was our guest. He and my family had an instant connection. At the end of our two weeks together, Itzik told the group that he lost most of his family in the Holocaust, but that we are now his family. I will be studying in Israel this spring, and plan to celebrate my first Shabbat in Israel with Itzik and his family.
I cherish the friends I've made through the AFIWDF program. I've learned a great deal from them, and they've made me feel more connected to Israel. Each soldier has suffered in his efforts to defend our homeland. Hosting the group for two weeks is our small way of saying thank you and letting them know we care.
Ali Lapping is a junior at University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. This past summer she worked at JUF News as part of the The Hillels of Illinois Harriet and Maurice Lewis Family Summer Intern Program. For more information about AFIWDF visit www.afiwdf.org.