Meet a True Israeli Hero: Avi Dorfman Survived Hamas Attack and Near-Permanent Brain Damage (VIDEO)
How would you feel if you knew you were going to die?
This is an uncomfortable question, but one that Avi Dorfman, 26, learned the answer to on September 11, 2007, in the split second between when shrapnel from a Qassam rocket penetrated his brain and when he lost consciousness.
It was 1:30 a.m. following his final day of IDF basic training, and he was eager to spend Rosh Hashanah break with his family. While Jews around the world went to synagogue and dipped apples into honey, Avi fought for his life in a hospital bed. His bereaved parents rushed to his bedside, worried that the loss of their prodigious only child would mean they would no longer be parents. The shrapnel had penetrated his right eye, destroying it, entered his brain, divided into three pieces, and severely damaged both hemispheres.
His doctors told his parents he would either die within the week or, if he was lucky, emerge severely mentally and physically disabled after a year’s hospitalization.
“I hope I didn’t get hurt, I didn’t have any children yet, this ends the family!” were the thoughts circling Avi’s head at the moment of impact.
How a person reacts in such a situation reveals a lot about them. Avi had lived his life with the ultimate goal of making those he loved proud of him. He scored one of the highest scores in the country on the Bagrut — an Israeli exam — and was destined to attend a prestigious US university. Extremely family-oriented, Avi would drop anything to help his parents. During my visit, I saw this firsthand.
Avi describes his parents as “heroic,” citing their unconditional love as the reason he developed such resilience. “They were extremely involved and encouraging…they told me, if you can’t do this, it’s okay, you’re brain damaged, and then I did it, and then they were like, yay!”
A child at heart, with the wisdom of someone much older, Avi enjoys video games, working with computers, watching fantasy and Disney movies, and playing the guitar. He has regained his intellectual and cognitive abilities, but his attitude has changed. He lives every day to the fullest, as his true, unfiltered self, grateful to be alive.
Following his injury, he rejoined the army as a volunteer and finished his service working the exact same job in the exact same elite unit he was initially intended for, with a perfect evaluation.
He won awards for his embodiment of the IDF spirit as well as for saving countless lives. He was hit because he stayed behind to help his squad instead of running for cover. He is, to this day, lauded as a national hero, and the greatest IDF medical miracle of all time.
In 2009, he attended UCLA, and later transferred to the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herziliya.
“I’m the only person who actually thinks and is living a soap opera life rather than just thinking it and going crazy,” he said with a sheepish grin, “Am I crazy?”
But his soap opera life isn’t all fun and games. Avi permanently lost his right eye and sense of smell, and his language center and memory were badly damaged. Though he defied all odds, he found that his new disabilities left him a shadow of his former self. “I have a lot of trouble getting girlfriends…all my friends cared about was staying up late, hanging out, going to bars and clubs, drinking, and I can’t do any of those.” This sweet man who never let go of his childhood enthusiasm would be a boon to any future romantic partner, but his disabilities destroyed his confidence.
“I miss my old self,” he laments with a heavy heart and crinkled brows.
In spite of all he went through, Avi moves forward with a heart full of gratitude. Following his time at the IDC, he entered the start-up world. He is still trying to come up with the next big thing, but until then, he is persevering with his trademark positive attitude that makes him such a joy to be around.
Failure is not an option for Avi, who hopes to defy Hamas by living well:
“Hamas had wanted to injure me, they wanted me to fail at doing any army service, even if they actually aimed for the power station that was a few kilometers north of us, even if that was their target… they tried but I will get back at them, I will do army service, I will, I will, I will. And I did.”