In June 2006, Haran Yaffe finalized the arrangements for the holiday to London that he intended to take a couple of months later. Around the same time, the London based Shabbaton Choir began to plan their 2007 'Solidarity Through Song' mission, with the idea of focusing on southern Israel. Neither Haran nor the members of the Shabbaton Choir imagined that their paths would cross at the Reuth Medical Center in Tel Aviv one morning in early March 2007. Last summer's war in Lebanon changed everything.
Haran had been due to leave for London on August 22. Instead, that was the date he woke up from a 10-day coma after being critically injured in a missile attack on an armored crew carrier in Lebanon; 24 year old Haran was a reservist serving in a combat engineering unit. After he was finally released from hospital, he became a day patient at Reuth, where he is receiving intensive physical therapy for his multiple injuries.
After the war, the Shabbaton Choir revised its 2007 solidarity program. Instead of going south, the choir visited hospitals and care facilities in northern Israel and also gave its support to the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers at Reuth, which is where this year's Solidarity Through Song' mission began.
I was at Reuth with the Shabbaton Choir. It was my second visit to the Reuth Medical Center: I was also there when the choir performed for patients in 2003. Reuth is a nonprofit organization that, through its several facilities, offers support to the elderly, chronically sick and disabled people of all ages, needy homeless people, accident and terror victims and injured soldiers. This support ranges from short-term rehabilitation to permanent-residential care – or "a home away from home", as the dedicated staff describes it. Reuth could be an overwhelmingly depressing place to visit, but the opposite is true. I was struck both times by the pervasive warm and positive atmosphere, which was especially evident during the Shabbaton Choir's performances.
"We have built a special relationship with Reuth," Stephen Levely, the choir's musical director told me as we toured the hospital after the concert. The choir gave several spontaneous song and dance performances during the tour. "People tell us they are so happy to see us here, and we are inspired by the people we meet on our visits."
The Norma Center, Reuth's Day Rehabilitation Center, which is named in memory of Norma Shachter, a former Londoner who had been a Reuth volunteer, provided physical therapy to many injured soldiers before the war, but the number requiring rehabilitation increased enormously after the summer of 2006. While various aspects of Israel's most recent war and the state of preparedness for possible future conflicts are being endlessly debated, soldiers who were seriously injured in Lebanon are concentrating on fighting their own daily battle to recover from, or simply cope with their injuries.
As a result of his injuries, Haran Yaffe has no stomach muscles and will require several operations in the future. He was also hit by flying shrapnel above his right elbow, which shattered his nerves and left him with only delicate movement in the palm of his hand. An avid music fan, Haran used to play guitar and piano at every opportunity, but now his limited hand movements restrict his playing. His physical therapist has devised a painstakingly measured program of rehabilitation for him. "Reuth is amazing" Haran told me. "The physical therapy I receive is tailored exactly to my needs by my therapist, who is also a doctor. I have improved so much since I've been coming here."
At the end of the Shabbaton Choir's performance, Haran met the choristers. In the few minutes he had to spare before his next physiotherapy session, he joined them in a spirited impromptu rendition of "Bashana Hab;a". "It's not what I usually sing, but as far as I'm concerned, music is always good." He said with a grin. "It's been a great morning."
The Shabbaton Choir's Solidarity Through Song Mission to Israel, led by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and United Synagogue President, Simon Hochhauser, spent five days singing for those who have suffered from acts of terror or the recent war in Lebanon.
The Choir, with cantors Lionel Rosenfeld, Shimon Craimer and Jonny Tugel, also gave a major benefit concert in aid of the rehabilitation of soldiers at Reuth – the largest rehabilitation and chronic care hospital in the central region. Guest of Honor at the concert included the IDF's Chief Medical Officer, who expressed his admiration of the Mission participants and British Jewry in general for their outpouring of support to the IDF and wounded soldiers in particular. Many British immigrants were among the sell out audience at the concert held in Raanana.