This is a love story between a father and his son, between a son and his father.
I dare you to read this and remain unmoved.
The story ends with the son, cheering from the sidelines as his father completed the grueling Israman Challenge, joining him at the end so the two could cross the finish line together.
Israman is an offshoot of the Ironman competition. The banner for the competition is
splashed with the question: “Are you tough enough?” It takes a truly tough man (or woman) to complete the difficult circuit of 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles) of swimming, 180 kilometers (112 miles) of cycling and a 42.2 kilometers (26.3 miles) on foot.
“Are you tough enough?” is a question Israeli parents have to deal with when they send their children, particularly their sons to the army. It isn’t easy to send your most precious ones in to danger. Suddenly the roles are reversed, the parent can no longer protect the child, it is the child who takes on the role of protector, not of themselves, but of the nation.
The elite units in the IDF ask the same question of the soldiers: “Are you tough enough?” Can you handle the difficult tasks we will put to you? The more important the unit, the more difficult the training. Those that aren’t tough enough are repositioned to simpler tasks.
I’m certain that Shimon Ben Yishai was bursting with pride when his son Ohad was accepted to the IDF’s elite Egoz reconnaissance unit. His son was tough enough.
Shimon managed to arrange something that normally is not done – he joined Ohad and his unit on the “Trek to the Beret”, the long and difficult trek fighting unit soldiers do in order to attain their unit’s beret. This is a rite of passage, signifying that these soldiers have attained the right to belong to their specific unit. It is difficult (are you tough enough?) and geared to make the soldiers coalesce as a unit – those who make it through to the end will never give up on their friends. The parents wait for their children, the soldiers at the finish line, where the official beret ceremony takes place. The parents are spectators, invited to witness the recognition of the accomplishment. Shimon took part in the accomplishment, marching with his son and the other soldiers.
When IDF soldiers are called to battle, no one asks if they are tough enough. No one asks the parents if they are tough enough to send their children to war. There is no choice. It’s necessary so they go. The parents stay behind with their hearts in their throats, worried for the country, terrified for their precious ones.
During the last Gaza war, Operation Protective Edge, in the battle of Sajaeya, thirteen of Ohad’s brothers in arms were killed. Ohad was hit with shrapnel that pierced his brain. No one thought he would survive.
That was the moment when life stopped for Ohad’s parents. Shimon and Ericka lived around Ohad’s hospital bed, giving him total focus. Nothing else mattered, not work, not themselves, the rest of their family. All they had left was hope.
Very slowly Ohad began to improve. Shimon and Ericka discovered that their 20 year old son needed to be taught everything: to talk, to walk, to eat. They had taught Ohad the child, now they needed to re-teach Ohad the man.
They went on the painstaking journey together. What choice did they have? Nothing prepares you for something like that…
Slowly Ohad improved. Breathing on his own was an achievement. Then the wheelchair was replaced by a walker. It took ages before he was able to call his parents by their names. Now he is able to talk much more. It is obvious that he understands what is going on but the brain injury made it difficult for Ohad to articulate his thoughts and feelings. His parents, who have watched his every move, understand him although he uses few words.
Ohad is now 21 years old. He has fought for his country and fought for his life. And his father was with him all the time. This last weekend Ohad got a chance to support his father’s journey.
Shimon explained to a reporter that although he wished Ohad could participate in the Israman competition with him, he’d take Ohad with him in spirit, every step of the way. It was from Ohad that he’d draw strength to complete the grueling route.
When the reporter asked Ohad what place he expected his father to win, Ohad answered with a single finger – number 1. The reporter asked Ohad with a typical Israeli tough-man joke: “What, so if he comes in number 2, you won’t let him in the house?” With a smile and a mischievous light in his eyes Ohad indicated that it’s something he’d have to consider. Shimon told the reporter: “I think Ohad means that I’m always number 1 for him.” Smiling at his father, Ohad indicated to the reporter that, joking aside, that is exactly how he feels.
When Shimon approached the end of the race, his eyes were not on the finish line but on the sidelines, where Ohad was watching him.
Ohad couldn’t run the race with him but Shimon wasn’t going to cross the finish line without his son. Ohad went to him and with his father’s arm around his shoulders, side by side, they walked towards the finish line.
The cheering was no longer for the runners, it was for Ohad. And for a father’s love. The event commentator explained for those who didn’t know that Ohad is the soldier that suffered the most grievous wounds in the war, that it is a miracle that he is on his feet, walking his father to the finish line. “Honor him!!” he shouted and the crowd went wild. They cheered and shouted “You’re a king!” The commentator made sure to point out the hard work and dedication that it took to bring Ohad to the condition he is in today, telling Ohad, his parents and the spectators: “This is the most important thing there is.”
And he’s right.
Nothing is more important than love.
Watch the video here: http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4759473,00.html