The Oscar Peterson Hall at Concordia University in NDG was filled to capacity last week for Beit Halochem Montreal chapter’s annual Celebration of Life fundraising concert, which helps more than 51,000 disabled Israeli veterans and victims of terror.
The event was organized by Montreal chapter co-chairs Vicky Pardo, Mallary Sackman-Segall and Cheryl Solomon.
“We don’t want any new members,” Beit Halochem Canada executive director Lisa Levy told attendees. “Unfortunately, it keeps growing. We need you to continue to ensure that our heroes get what they need.”
On hand were Israeli Consul-General David Levy and Deputy Consul Rotem Segev, among many other notables.
“From Day 1, we celebrated life and if people were injured in the war or civilians were injured by terrorism, we did whatever we could to help them recover and reintegrate, and to achieve the maximum of their potential,” Levy said. “That’s Beit Halochem, and that’s thanks to you.”
The audience was entertained by the sublime Israeli operatic trio Kol Esperanza (Voice of Hope) — comprised of Nimrod Grinboim, Nadav Inbar and Omer Shaish. Their repertoire included songs in English, Hebrew and Italian, including the operatic standard Nessun Dorma popularized by Luciano Pavarotti. The concert was directed by Roni Aviram, founder of Nohar Productions.
During the evening, three Israel veterans told their harrowing stories of how they were injured and went through extensive rehabilitation, and of the importance of the services offered by Beit Halochem in Israel.
Each of the three guests’ stories were presented via video, and they then appeared in front of the audience to loud standing ovations.
Michael Zamir, a medic during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, treated the wounded after a missile strike by the terrorist group Hezbollah while severely wounded himself, and received commendations for his actions. He was hospitalized for a year, in a wheelchair for three years and underwent rehab at Beit Halochem for a four-year period for his injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The 38-year-old is now an attorney in Jerusalem. His video testimony was highly emotional.
“Your support is what has helped me and so many others like me to continue with our lives, and leave the war behind,” Zamir told the audience. “When the physical wounds heal, the real battle begins, PTSD, which comes to you when you least expect it. It comes at night when you’re asleep and you wake up shouting. It comes when you realize you’re the only one who survived from your squad, and all your friends are no longer around. Beit Halochem is my second home, my second family, where everyone feels equal.”
Yoseph Haddad enlisted in the Golani Brigade although he was not required to as a Christian Arab. Also during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, a missile severed Haddad’s leg, but the limb was reattached. Haddad has dedicated his life to defending Israel and countering the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement. In his video testimony, Haddad radiated positivity with his constant smile and said he would give his life to save his friends, without hesitation.
“I always knew I wanted to serve my country, my society,” Haddad told the appreciative audience in a speech also filled with humour. “When I came back to Nazareth in my uniform, some of the people didn’t like that I was in the Israeli Army. They spat towards me, called me ‘traitor,’ cursed me. But I can tell you one thing, I was always proud of who I am and what I’m doing.”
Asia Mekonen was transported from Ethiopia to Israel with his family during the Operation Solomon rescue mission in 1991. While serving in the Givati Brigade in 2012, Mekonen suffered severe injuries, including impaired vision, in a vehicle accident. His sister was constantly by his side during his five years of rehabilitation at Beit Halochem, after which he was able to complete two marathons and participate in the organization’s Courage in Motion bike ride.
Mekonen, now a musician in Jerusalem, debuted an original song, the story of his recovery, for the loudly cheering audience.
He then asked the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and pray silently “for peace, for our people, for Jerusalem and for Israel.
“Now, open your eyes,” he instructed. “I hope all of our prayers will be heard by God. When we are together and united, nobody can beat us, nobody.”