Perhaps you have wanted to visit Israel so you could acquire a better understanding of the history of the Jewish people, have first-hand knowledge of the challenges they face and learn about their day to day life. Zahal Shalom has provided that opportunity to families in Bergen County since 1993. Each year we bring delegations of ten disabled Israeli war veterans here for two weeks, during which they are hosted by local families.
Zahal Shalom’s executive committee, consisting strictly of volunteers, organizes a detailed program so that every day is filled with activities including trips to various sites in the metropolitan New York area as well as a three day trip to Washington D.C. Our evenings and weekends are packed with more social activities than most of us experience in a year, including evening gatherings, pool parties, etc. The delegation visits local schools and synagogues where the vets have an opportunity to discuss their war time experiences and everyday life in Israel. Host families are encouraged to participate together with their veteran in as many activities as their schedules permit. In spite of their injuries the veterans are all able to manage without wheelchairs or any other special assistance.
Although their daily schedules are relatively full, we insure that there is still plenty of free time to spend with their host and buddy. Buddy families are to be available in case the host is unable to bring the veteran to an activity. Many of the vets have never been outside of Israel and their local community. This experience–the private time they have with their host and the local Jewish community–frequently enables them to reveal painful memories that they have never discussed with even their own families. It is not uncommon for them to suffer from varying degrees of post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Although their time with us is very brief, it is not unusual for the vet to return home with a renewed appreciation of life that is a revelation to their own family.
Host and buddy families have often never visited or even planned to visit Israel. They achieve a better understanding of life in Israel and frequently plan a tour after the delegation returns. They are inspired through observing how another human being strives to lead a normal life in spite of serious physical and/or emotional challenges. It is common for all participants to develop strong, familial bonds that last many years.