The Cocktail Party Contrarian: An IDF Soldier, a Woman in a Burqa, and a Bunch of American Jews Meet in a Hospital Hallway at Tel Aviv

The wounded soldier emphasizes to a group of visiting American Jews that he was proud to fight for his country and for his fellow Israelis. He wants to be sure we heard him say that.

AP/Ariel Schalit
Israeli soldiers take up positions near the Gaza Strip border, December 29, 2023. AP/Ariel Schalit

When talking to a 21-year-old man with one leg, you tell yourself it is best to maintain direct eye contact. You can’t turn back the clock and protect him from the terrorists who took his leg, and his best friend’s life, but you can try to safeguard his dignity by showing him that you see him, not just his injury.

Yoav sat in his wheelchair in a hallway at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Aviv this past Tuesday and explained to our small group of visiting American Jews that he almost died on the flight to the hospital after his unit was hit while chasing down Hamas in Gaza. A medic’s firm finger to the severed artery in his neck kept him from bleeding out. He lost his leg below the knee, the hearing in his left ear, and much of his voice due to damage to his vocal cords — but not his smile. 

Yoav’s trauma hadn’t amputated his spirit. He talked to us about the walks he plans to take once he is fitted for a prosthetic, and about friends from his unit who visit him every day. 

He spoke with a lightness that probably can’t be understood as a conceivable response to crisis by those of us who have never had to overcome one. I thought that if I asked his mother, she would say that her son was always a happy, warm person, and that he still is.

My eyes were fixed firmly on his until he pointed to his bandage and directed our attention to the void below it. He made a gesture of air quotes with his fingers and called the loss of his leg a “light flu,” suggesting it is a minor injury relative to others he might have sustained. 

He must have seen the surprised looks on our faces, so he added with emphasis that he was proud to fight for his country and for his fellow Israelis. He wanted to be sure we heard him say that. 

A woman in a burqa and her husband emerged from around the corner and walked past us down the hospital corridor. I immediately turned to look at them, and I berated myself for the thoughts I was having. Yoav saw the couple but never flinched: He lost his leg for them, too. They were also Israelis. 

I told Yoav then that he fought for me and for my family as well. Americans and Jews were also targets of Hamas. I thanked him for beating the terrorists back, and I looked down freely at his leg. 

I struggle to join Yoav in calling his injury “light.” I see it as a heavy burden he will have to carry for the rest of his life. I don’t weigh that burden against the weight of the worst thing that could have happened to him, but against the idea that nothing like this should have ever happened at all. I resent the cruelty of his loss on his behalf. 

Then, I remind myself that I don’t have the correct instruments to evaluate the costs of Israeli service and sacrifice. I have experienced neither. As an American Jew, I am, like that Israeli Muslim woman in the burqa, simply the beneficiary of both.

I was, of course, never in any danger of compromising Yoav’s dignity by looking at his wounds. They are a humbling sight. I hope he recovers from his “light flu” soon.

The New York Sun

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