Everyone has a story. Take a young man from Jerusalem named Yadid Akerman, for example. Born in Israel, he’s the son of two immigrants – an American mother and a Canadian father. He has two older brothers, a twin brother, and a younger brother.
Yadid and I would occasionally bump into each other at Shabbat meals, but I didn’t really get to know him until we started taking jiujitsu classes together. Eventually, of course, I sent Yadid a Facebook friend request.
At first, I saw images on Facebook that painted a picture of a perfectly ordinary guy. Yadid, a graduate of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, is a 3D artist who creates Jurassic Park-worthy models of dinosaurs.
Then I scrolled a little bit further – and saw images that were out of context for me: pictures of Yadid in the hospital, with descriptions and comments that referenced one of the conflicts in Gaza and a wounded soldier. I asked Yadid about this, and he shared his story.
It was July 2014, and following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers (later found murdered) by Hamas, Israel entered Gaza in what was called “Operation Protective Edge.”
Yadid was finishing up his first year of studies at Bezalel Academy. Sitting in the library with one exam left before the end of the semester, he was informed that he was being called up as a reserve-duty soldier. He immediately retrieved his belongings and reported to his base.
Tension was constant as the Israeli soldiers waited to go in. Eventually, he and a group of soldiers loaded into an armored personnel carrier and headed into Gaza.
His squad’s specialty was to rescue wounded soldiers under fire. Until that service was required, they brought equipment to the battalion and accompanied those that needed reinforcements. They did this for five days, while wearing heavy bulletproof vests, without showering, and while barely even getting out of the cramped APC.
On day five, there was a whistle and a boom, followed by an impact on Yadid’s left leg. His group was under mortar fire from Hamas. One mortar had fallen near him, and the shrapnel hit his leg. Yadid says he had never felt anything like it before, and there was lots of blood.
Despite the hole in his leg, Yadid ran faster than he’d ever run before, to a nearby APC. Certain that he was going to die, he thought about his mother and the suffering this would cause her.
The APC Yadid ran to got him to a meeting point, where a doctor examined him. The shrapnel had missed his artery. Yadid was unable to move his knee as the doctor instructed, but was able to move his ankle.
At a nearby hospital, doctors removed the shrapnel, and Yadid was back home by the next day. Meanwhile, Israelis far and wide joined Yadid’s family and friends in an outpouring of love and support for the wounded soldier.
A bride and groom Yadid had never met came to visit him in the hospital on their wedding day, the bride still in her wedding dress.
As per procedure, Yadid’s phone had been locked away on a base before he entered Gaza. His carrier service then shut down one of its branches, but not before its employees brought Yadid a new Galaxy S4, an iPad Mini and gift baskets.
The head of his division at Bezalel called him and offered him anything that he needed.
Candy, cards and visitors arrived – all from the love of strangers who consider the entirety of Israel to be their family.
Then Yadid’s recovery began. First there was the physical, but within two weeks, Yadid was running again. At that point, he said, the mental trauma kicked in. He realized what could have happened, that he had been sure he was going to die. He began to sleep a lot.
But in retrospect, he says, all of this was the best gift that he ever got – because in time he got his life back.
Yadid says his brush with death broke any and all self-imposed barriers that had held him back from believing he could succeed. It gave him the confidence he needed to, among other things, become the 3D artist that he wanted to be. Instead of believing that high-level animation was out of his league, he changed his mind-set to, “I’ll try, and the worst case is, I’ll fail.”
His final presentation at Bezalel Academy, in 2018, was dubbed “flawless.” On top of that, he even broke the school’s pull-up record!
Yadid said that before his injury, he was barely surviving in school. Afterward, he wasn’t scared to dare.
These days, besides the jiujitsu lessons and creating dinosaur models, Yadid is the head of 3D in a studio that makes schools a better place to learn.
Yadid’s story is just one of many in Israel’s military history. But what Yadid took from the experience is perhaps the most important story of all – life is a gift, and we can choose to either let our negative experiences hold us back or propel us forward.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Jerusalem, where he works as a life coach. His collection of short stories, “Tavern of the Mind,” is available for paperback and Kindle purchase on Amazon at www.amzn.to/2Izssrz.