10 brothers for life. 5 local host families. 8 days together in Melbourne.
When our family was asked to participate in the first ever Brothers for Life (BFL) delegation to Australia, we had no idea that these eight days would prove to be life-changing for everyone involved. It was explained to us that BFL is a non-profit organization which provides injured combat soldiers with critical support as they seek to recover after serious trauma and injury during combat.
The model of ‘injured soldiers helping other injured soldiers’ creates a community of ‘brothers’ who have been through similar traumatic experiences in combat. As well as running a variety of programs in Israel for the ‘brothers’, and having a physical presence at ‘Beit Ha’Hachim’ (House of the Brothers) in the Tel Aviv area, BFL arranges delegations of ten soldiers each to travel to and connect with Jewish communities around the world as part of their healing process.
We agreed to be one of the five Melbourne host families, with each host family allocated two ‘brothers’ to stay with them for a week. At the time, we thought of this as a logistical exercise, and we focused on where they would sleep, what foods they might like and how we would get them to and from the various planned activities. What we had no appreciation for at the time was the powerful, intense and emotional journey we were all about to embark on.
A few weeks before the delegation was due to arrive in Melbourne, we were provided with some details about the ten ‘brothers’ who would be taking part and we started to get the sense that this would not merely be a transactional experience. We read about their courage and bravery on the battlefield, their injuries and journeys since then and we felt in awe of the service they had given to Israel and the Jewish people and the huge physical and mental toll that had resulted.
We learned that our two ‘brothers’ were David and Ron. David served in the IDF’s Combat Engineering Corps Unit, Yahalom. After participating in a number of operations including Operation Brother’s Keeper and Operation Protective Edge, David was posted to the Lebanon-Israel border where he sustained shrapnel wounds on his upper limbs. Ron served in the Armoured Corps Reconnaissance-Infantry Unit Palsar 401. During Operation Protective Edge, Ron was injured whilst on a mission in Gaza, losing his right leg from below the knee.
As soon as we read about David and Ron, we wanted to embrace them and to do whatever we could to make their trip to Melbourne everything they hoped it would be. Still, we underestimated the ways in which having them as part of our family for the week would create new connections and shift our perspectives.
We spent an action packed week with the delegation. Their schedule involved a moving visit to the Melbourne Holocaust Museum where we heard from survivor Sarah Saaroni OAM, a visit to Bialik College, a tour of the city laneways, exploring the Mornington Peninsula and Healesville, surfing in Torquay and an Erev Shabbat service at Toorak Shule. Each night one of the families hosted the group at their home and this provided the opportunity for connections to be made and stories to be told. The ten brothers did not know one another before their flight to Melbourne, so not only were they getting to know us, but they were getting to know one another.
For our family, the emotional ride accelerated on the second night, when each of David and Ron shared their stories with one another and with us. Looking back, it is difficult to imagine how challenging that would have been for them and how vulnerable they must have felt. It is overwhelming to think of how much they must have trusted us to take us into their confidence, be so open and relive all the traumatic details. From that moment, a bond formed between us that would continue to strengthen.
As the days went by, we had the opportunity to have conversations with the other brothers, and to hear their stories too. One by one, we formed connections with the group. We came to understand that the brothers are not only brothers for life, but that they are brothers for life – choosing life and being supported in doing so.
The visit culminated with a session where each host family member, kids and adults alike, together stood up with ‘their’ brothers and reflected on the week. The hugs, tears and raw emotion on display was evidence of the impact of the week on us all. In only eight days, the brothers had come to genuinely be our family. The brothers spoke of feeling surrounded by love, of the confirmation that despite all the bad and evil people in the world there are always good people too, of their wonder at being welcomed not only into our homes but into our hearts and lives and of how healing the week had been.
It is hard to describe the feeling since our new family returned to Israel. All of the brothers, and particularly David and Ron who stayed in our home, have become lodged in our hearts, and we felt heartbroken when they left. We are now replaying the conversations in our minds, the special moments, the incremental steps that bit by bit joined us together without us realising. The conversations about how it felt in the moment during combat, when staying alive was not guaranteed, about how they discussed their experiences with their families, about them questioning why we would invite them into our homes so willingly, finally understanding how appreciative we are that they protect Israel so that it is there for us and the Jewish people, and about how the scars that can’t be seen can still be felt each day.
We feel truly humbled by the trust that was placed in us as a family to be by the brothers’ sides during this part of their healing journey. We are incredibly grateful for the experience, and as one of the brothers reminded us, this is not the end, but the beginning. It is the beginning of what we know will be lifelong friendships and of a community in Australia that will support our brothers on their journey to choose life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Amanda Miller (OAM) is a co-founder of Impact Generation Partners, which invests in, advises and supports enterprises that deliver financial as well as social and/or environmental returns. Amanda is Co Chair of Philanthropy Australia, the peak body for philanthropy in Australia. She is a Director of Impact Investing Australia and Deputy Chair of the Federal Government Social Impact Investing Taskforce’s Expert Panel.