Akiva’s Helmet: Leaving No Soldier Behind

October 24, 2013 7:59 pm 1 comment

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz surveys reserve troops on Yom Kippur, 2011. Photo: IDF Spokesperson.

A few weeks ago, my wife Didi undertook a major project: the long overdue clean up of our building’s storage room. As she waded through piles of discarded treasures, she discovered a burlap bag buried beneath the clutter.

The bag contained an old paratrooper’s helmet adorned with a nasty hole – the product of a Syrian shell that had pierced the metal.

“What’s this?” Didi asked.

“That’s Akiva’s helmet,” I replied

“Who is Akiva?”

At that point, I realized I had never told her about Akiva’s bravery, so I sat her down to tell her the tale.

I first met Akiva in 1974 when I was the adjunct company commander for the IDF platoon stationed at Beit Jann, 40 kilometers from Damascus. Between April and May, we absorbed a seemingly never-ending hailstorm of mortar shells and Katyusha rockets from the Syrians on a daily basis.

From Beit Jann, we organized raids on Mount Hermon and Syrian enclaves. Akiva had served as commander of the post for two weeks, until shrapnel from a Syrian shell penetrated his helmet and struck him in his head. When we extricated Akiva, he was in critical condition.

I held on to his bloodstained helmet as a reminder. I often looked at the helmet and prayed. I promised that if Akiva lived, I would return the helmet to him as a gift.

Forty years had passed since then, and I had not thought about Akiva in quite some time. I knew that Akiva had pulled through, that he underwent rehabilitation and recuperated fully. But the intensity of life, and the many losses I endured along the way, including my dear brother Eran and so many friends, repressed the memory of Akiva’s wounds and my promise.

“Now, it’s time to find Akiva,” I told Didi. “It’s time to return his helmet.” I called Leon Regonis, previously of the paratroopers’ brigade, and asked him to help me track down Akiva. Leon assured me that he would give it his best effort.

Earlier this month, on October 3, the paratroopers’ brigade organized a large rally to mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War and pay tribute to its many heroes.

As the ceremony came to a close, I gave and received hundreds of hugs from friends, commanders, and soldiers.

The crowd dispersed, and we were among the last people still in the Ramat Gan Park. Just then, a gentleman approached me, smiling from ear to ear.

“Do you recognize me?” he asked.

“No, I can’t say I do,” I answered.

“I’m Akiva.”

Overcome with emotion, I grabbed him and we embraced.

“I have your helmet!” I told him. “I found it in my storage room just two weeks ago. I want to return it to you.”

“You keep it,” he said.  “After all, it’s not mine. It’s yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“I came to you because I hardly had any supplies. I didn’t even have a helmet. So, you took your own helmet off of your head and gave it to me. The helmet that saved my life – it was yours.”

My brother, Eran, was killed in the Yom Kippur War. He was injured in the Golan Heights and bled to death after sitting untreated for seven days.  Immediately thereafter, I was given the choice of leaving my combat unit as a bereaved soldier. However, I chose to remain in the military in order to make absolutely sure that no soldier would ever be left behind again.

Akiva is living proof of that.

Later in life, my time with another Eran – our son who was diagnosed with severe physical and cognitive disabilities – allowed me to develop my philosophy even further, and I became committed to changing the way society views the disabled.

For all these years, Akiva’s helmet lay next to a picture of my brother Eran like a pledge to an impossible mission: to bring Eran home. I only find comfort in knowing that at ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, a home for the disabled that we founded and that bears his name, I am able to make sure that these wonderful children don’t get left behind.

As I see it, caring for those who cannot care for themselves, and making sure that they are given every opportunity to excel and reach their greatest potential, is the most fitting tribute to Eran and the many other heroes of the Yom Kippur War.

Major General (Res.) Doron Almog is the founder and Chairman of ALEH Negev – Nahalat Eran, a village named in memory of his son, that provides a continuum of residential care for children with severe disabilities as they grow from adolescents into young adults. Learn more about ALEH at www.aleh.org.

1 Comment

  • Bless you for your acts of Chessed. Every small thing we do can be life or death for someone else. You’re proof that you didn’t even think or remember giving your helmet to another solder.
    Again Bless you for your continued acts of kindness and mercy.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Ok, fans, question time. What do: Guns ‘n’ Roses shred-meister guitarist, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (aka Ronald Jay Blumenthal), “Hard Rock Hotel”, “Las Vegas” and Israel’s ”Hatikva” (The Hope) national anthem… all have in common? I know, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm, ‘One of these things is not like the other,’ would fit in here,” right? Um, no, turns out. Caught backstage by blogger Darren Garnick at the swanky Vegas gig in early June, Thal, acoustic guitar in hand, fretted out a sweetly melodic [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.