April 15, 2007 / 27 Nissan 5767
For Yair Cohen, the past seven months have been an encounter in dealing with what life can offer. From fighting a war and watching comrades die, to experiencing the birth of his first child and recovering from his own war wounds, this 26-year-old medic reservist has dealt with a gamut of emotions and events and is more than grateful to have emerged intact.
It was during Cohen’s rehabilitation after the war against the Lebanese Hizbullah last summer that he was told about the Jewish Agency grants being given to reservists who had fought and been injured during the war. The Cohens applied for and received a grant from the Jewish Agency's Victim of Terror Fund, using it to buy equipment for their newborn and to help with Yair’s last year of tuition in college.
“The money is for people who need it,” explains Moshe Vigdor, director general of JAFI. “What happened to Yair was something that halted his life, his studies. Our purpose was just to give in order to help him out a little.”
Last July, Cohen was finishing up his third year of studies as a student at the Ra’am Lipschitz Religious Teachers College, where he is studying to be a history teacher, when the war against the Lebanese Hizbullah erupted. As a medic in a paratroopers unit, he was called at 1:00 am a day after the conflict began, reporting for duty seven hours later. After spending a week in training with his unit, Cohen’s unit was called to go into Lebanon to destroy the Hizbullah’s missile launchers, a painstaking job that had to be handled by ground troops.
The troops planned on walking by night and sleeping by day in order to avoid detection, but got off to a late start and found themselves still walking at daybreak, having not yet reached their final destination. After finding several abandoned houses in a Lebanese village, the troops settled themselves for the day, Cohen’s unit taking over the storeroom of one house which was filled with piles of drying zaatar.
Cohen had just settled himself on top of the pile of zaatar when a missile fell on the house, crumbling walls and sending bodies and equipment sprawling.
“You don’t know if you’re alive,” says Cohen, remembering the scene. “It’s unclear. You’re just looking to see if you can breathe.”
When Cohen got outside, the scene was grim, with soldiers wounded and calling for his attention, his good friends writhing in pain on the ground. When a second missile hit the area, the soldiers headed for the cover of a nearby olive tree grove, waiting for help. It wasn’t until five hours later, when the unit was evacuated to the border, that Cohen realized his helmet was full of blood from a head injury.
Cohen suffered from a blood clot and post traumatic stress disorder but was able to return home fairly quickly to Eli, the community outside Jerusalem where he lives with Liat, his wife of one year, who was seven months pregnant at the time. They had moved to Eli after getting married in August 2005 because Cohen’s army friend, Gilad Zussman, also lived there. But Zussman was killed during the battles against the Hizbullah.
The last months have been complicated. The Cohens are mourning their friend and rejoicing in the birth of Adi, their daughter who was born in November and was named for Gilad. The financial help from the Jewish Agency, says Cohen, was invaluable, helping them just when they needed it.
“We’re with her,” said Cohen, who has also returned to school for his last year of studies. “We’re growing with her.”