In Israel today, Yom HaZichoron, the country mourns the thousands of lives lost through war and terror attacks. In a place so small, there is no one untouched by these losses. To our friend and grantee, Anita Shkedi, co-founder of the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association, today is a day of personal pain. Please take a moment to read how one person’s loss has turned into hope for others damaged by war.
Today, Yom Hazikaron, is a day of reflection here in Israel as we remember those who have lost their lives in defense of the country. For my family and friends, Yom Hazikaron holds special meaning as we remember my son, Jonathan, who joined the Israeli Army and served his country with pride and enthusiasm. Jonathan died from traumatic brain injuries after being mortally wounded on a rescue mission in the Lebanon. He was a fighter and a very brave soldier. I gave the State of Israel my most precious possession and was left with a choice; either to remain paralyzed at home, or go back to work and cope with this loss by dedicating the rest of my life to his memory. I consider one of INTRA’s most important projects – the mental health and well-being of those who return from war — to be my life’s work, and it is my response to the devastation of Jonathan’s death. It was the best way I knew to help soldiers who return home damaged by the horrors of war.
Since the Yom Kippur War many thousands of soldiers have arrived home from campaigns with severe injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD is a severe mental health problem that causes intense anxiety, fear, helplessness, and often horror.) Sadly, since the second Intifada and Operation Protective Edge in 2014 the numbers of soldiers with PTSD symptoms have escalated to tragic proportions. Veteran soldiers suffering from PTSD constantly re-experience the traumatic event, causing them to avoid activities of normal life. PTSD leaves many with a feeling they will always have a gun at their head. Unable to find peace and happiness, they become depressed, have difficulties falling asleep, and when they do sleep they frequently awaken after nightmares and anxiety dreams. The daily news, loud sounds and specific odors remind veterans of combat, and for some, safety is hiding under the bed covers or going no further than the end of the street. They lose contact with their families and friends, are unable to work or study and their quality of life regresses to emotional numbness and mental pain.
Many of these vulnerable veterans come to INTRA wanting to participate in the equine therapy program but we must turn them away as we can only offer places in the program when we have sufficient funding. Currently, only eight veterans benefit from our equine therapy.
The soldiers of the IDF protect the Land of Israel and, by extension, Jews around the world. They put their young lives on the line, and many come home damaged by the traumatic experiences they endure. Our responsibility is to make them whole again, but we can only do that with your help. Can you help us rebuild these lives so that fear and pain are no longer part of their daily life? It costs $2500 to provide one soldier with a year of equine therapy and a chance to live again.
Dr. Anita Shkedi, Director, INTRA- Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association