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Saturday, October 10, 2015

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IDF paratrooper survives despite the odds

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Israeli Lt. Aharon Karov speaks to Nahal soldiers at an army base in Israel about his story of adversity and staying connected to his faith.

TORONTO — For Israeli lieutenant Aharon Karov, life has always been unpredictable. In December 2008, Karov was celebrating with his wife, Tzvia, at their wedding. Twelve hours later, the member of Paratrooper Brigade 890 was on the ground in Gaza as Operation Cast Lead began.

In January 2009, Karov was walking through an old building in a besieged Gaza neighbourhood when an explosive detonated above his head. Members from his team thought he was dead. Aboard a helicopter on the way to an Israeli hospital, a medic slit Karov’s throat to insert a breathing tube – a procedure that had never been attempted airborne before.

Miraculously, despite a head and body pierced by more than 500 fragments of shrapnel, Karov survived. Twelve surgeries and operations later, the soldier is walking proof that one can overcome anything one sets his or her mind to.

“Today, I don’t feel anything from the injury,” Karov told The Canadian Jewish News, via a translator. “Baruch HaShem.”

Karov, 28, will be arriving in Toronto a few days before Yom Ha’atzmaut to speak with high school students and at local synagogues about his story.

Joining Karov is his father, Rabbi Zev Karov, who recently published a book, Deep in the Heart, about his experiences during his son’s recovery.

Rabbi Karov began writing just two weeks after his son was wounded. “I was overwhelmed… from the compassion and the exhibition of Jewish unity in the media, newspapers,” he said.

“People were calling me, sending letters. It was the birth of something very new and it inspired me to just start writing. I didn’t think it was going to be a book.”

The wounded soldier, also known as “the groom who went to war,” lay in a coma for 10 days. When he woke up, Karov was unable to move his body. He could not recognize his wife and was unable to speak.

Karov had also lost about 25 per cent of his skull and his nose had been ripped away. Initially, doctors thought that he would never walk, speak or eat normally again.

“There was a difficult time about three months after the injury. I felt like it was not the same kid,” Rabbi Karov said. “The main change was in his eyes. Something was not there, it was not the Aharon I knew.”

However, the wounded soldier proved them wrong. Forty-five days after waking up, he was in a wheelchair and a nurse was helping him to stand up. Each day, he walked a few more steps, Karov himself told The CJN.

“When I arrived at rehab, [the doctors] did not have a goal that I was going to be normal again,” he said. “For them, each goal was small… having me say one word, for instance. That was the goal set and that was what they focused on.”

The soldier currently lives in Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, with his wife and two children, four-year-old Hodaya and two-year-old Amitzur. He is a student at Ariel University and works for Panim el Panim, an Israeli organization that promotes Jewish unity and identity.

For Panim el Panim, Karov brings his message of Jewish identity and faith to soldiers in combat. He told The CJN he does not regret his decision to go into battle so soon after his wedding.

“When one is in the army… you are in a current mindset that when you are needed, it doesn’t matter if you have anything else,” he said “Anything else is prioritized to be second, even if it’s your wedding.”

Deep in the Heart, now printed in English, will be launched in Canada on May 5, at the Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto (BAYT) synagogue in Thornhill, Ont. Karov and his father will be present.

His speaking engagement in Toronto marks Karov’s fourth tour outside of Israel– he has spoken in London, New York and Los Angeles.

In New York, the soldier did something that would have seemed impossible a few years earlier: he ran the New York Marathon. Karov ran it in four hours and 14 minutes. With the run, he raised more than $40,000 for OneFamily Fund, an Israeli organization that helps fund victims of terrorist attacks.

“Ever since the injury, I set myself goals. Even during the very beginning of rehab, everything was setting a goal of something I think I cannot do, and [I] achieve it,” Karov said. “For me, [the New York Marathon] was another step of achieving something you may think you cannot do, but with the strength within you, you can achieve it.”

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