When Edan Kleiman was elected as chairman of Beit Halochem Israel four months ago, he decided to visit all its offices worldwide.
The organization, which provides aid and services to wounded IDF veterans, couldn’t fulfill its mission without the help of its international supporters, and Kleiman wanted to recognize that. So he embarked on a worldwide trip to introduce himself and show his gratitude, which brought him to Toronto on Nov. 21.
According to Kleiman, the vast majority of Jews, whether Israeli or Diaspora, believe that the Israeli government created and maintains Beit Halochem. In fact, he said, Beit Halochem was started by Jews from all over the world, including IDF veterans, and receives only 16 per cent of its funding from the Ministry of Defence.
Kleiman said the organization uses its funding to provide cutting-edge rehabilitation programs for its veterans.
“Beit Halochem is the house of the warrior, but it’s also the house of the dream. We make disabled veterans’ dreams come true. If a person comes to me who lost his leg … and says to me, ‘my dream is to climb a wall,’ we built him a wall to climb on. If a blind person comes to me and says, ‘I want to shoot (a gun)’ … we built him a range that he can shoot as a blind person,” Kleiman said.
“If a blind person told me he wants to ride a tandem, we buy them the bicycle and give them the structure, the guide that will ride with him. We have the most accessible gym in the world.”
In September, U.S. Secretary for Veteran Affairs Robert Wilkie toured a Beit Halochem centre in Israel. Kleiman said Wilkie was “shocked” when he learned the building had existed since 1974 and still managed to put his infrastructure to shame.
Kleiman also said Beit Halochem is revolutionary because it focuses on the families, as well as the injured individuals.
“When I was hurt, everybody focused on me,” said Kleiman, who lost feeling in three-quarters of his body after getting shot in the chest during a military operation in 2004. “What happened to the families? In each event where soldiers get hit and hurt and get disabled, between 10 to 20 people get hurt (who are) surrounding: brother, sister, father, mother, daughters.”
His own father was a 37-year-old reservist with two babies who was shot in the chest during the Yom Kippur War. The bullet didn’t just affect his father, but his whole extended family. That’s why Beit Halochem offers services for afflicted family members, including childcare for soldiers who need time for therapy and rehabilitation.
Kleiman said Canada has been the strongest supporter of Beit Halochem in the world for over a decade.
“I think the Canada community should be very, very proud of itself, because a lot of people talk Zionism, but only talk about it – not do it. The Canadian community does it,” he said.
“The Canadian community is doers, not talkers. With the help of the Canadian community, we built tennis courts. We have (a Paralympic) champion who was a helicopter pilot and he became a quadriplegic.”
Canadian money helps fund programs, activities and equipment offered by Beit Halochem, including rehabilitation and job training. Kleiman said Beit Halochem has a 75 per cent success rate of leading injured veterans back into the workforce.
“My vision is, I don’t want my guys to lean on the social benefits of the army. I want them to be providers, I want them to wake up in the morning for the next 40 years, go to work, provide for the family, sit at an office like this and be surrounded by normal people – no matter what the disability is,” he said. “You have to confront (your disability), but not put it at the centre of your life.”