Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →