Nine disabled Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans were in Ottawa, August 24, during an annual visit to Canada organized by Beit Halochem Canada, an organization that provides support to the Beit Halochem centres in Israel.
Beit Halochem’s four centres in Israel provide medical care and sports, social, and recreational activities for Israelis who became disabled in the line of duty during their IDF service or as victims of terrorism.
This year, seven men and two women, aged from 32 to 60, enjoyed respite from their regular routines during their visit to Canada, staying with Jewish families in Montreal.
The Ottawa leg of the Beit Halochem Canadian tour was organized by community volunteer Ruth Aaron.
While in Ottawa, the group toured the city, were hosted by Israeli Ambassador Nimrod Barkan at his residence, and met with renowned human rights activist Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister of Canada. Before returning to Montreal, the group enjoyed an Israeli-style dinner prepared by Babi’s Restaurant at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.
Two of the participants, Meytal Barzilay and Nir Zigdon, spoke with the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin during dinner.
Barzilay, 32, said she suffered a stroke during her IDF service which left her disabled.
“After I was discharged from the army, I decided to return to service as an officer, this time as a volunteer,” she said.
Barzilay served as a captain in a classified unit of the air force, “because I felt that this is my mission.”
Zigdon, 33, said he was discharged from the army a year-and-a-half ago as a major in Geffen, the infantry battalion of IDF’s officers’ training camp. He served as officer during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
“We entered Gaza a few hours after the battalion lost its commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Dolev Keidar, and three other soldiers,” Zigdon said “I told my subordinates that we are not only defending the residents of the villages and towns near the Gaza Strip and the citizens of Israel – but we’re defending Jews all over the world.”
Being so warmly received in Canada reinforced Zigdon’s feeling of Jewish peoplehood. “I really feel that we’re one people with a shared destiny,” he said.
The visit to Canada, Zigdon added, was very important to the group of disabled veterans.
“It gives us so much. To be able to clear our heads and take a break – it’s really therapeutic,” he said.