Photo: Dror Farkash

A Wounded Warrior’s Road to Healing: A Conversation with Shlomo Klein

Since October 7th, close to 3,200 IDF soldiers have been injured – half in the initial days, and half since the ground invasion of Gaza. Behind that statistic lies literally thousands of remarkable stories – of pain, perseverance and the long road to recovery. Rabbi Aron White spoke with Shlomo Klein, who was injured on October 7th, underwent numerous operations, and has undergone 5 months of rehabilitation at Sheba Medical Center. 

Rabbi Aron White: On October 7th, you were in an army base close to the Gaza border, serving in an elite unit, Sayeret Nachal. How did you come to join that unit?

Shlomo Klein: I grew up in Efrat to Canadian parents, and after graduating high school went to Ma’alot Yeshiva. Like many of my contemporaries, I tried getting into an elite unit of the IDF, and was accepted for the tests to get into Sayeret Matkal. I didn’t pass the test, but was then accepted to Sayeret Nachal. I joined with my friends from Ma’alot, and underwent a year and two months of training. The first place we were posted was at the Gaza perimeter.

On the morning of October 7th, I was in Mutzav Sufa when the sirens went off. I grabbed my gun and ammunition, but didn’t have time to get my full gear on. Our mefaked told us there were terrorists breaking into the base, and we ran across the base to engage them. I would end up engaging about 15 of the 60 Hamas terrorists who infiltrated the base. We ran into the dining room, and the terrorists were on the other side of the wall. I was steeling myself,  counting down to 3 to get ready to go around the wall and engage them, when they threw a grenade at us. I was able to evade it, and only got some shrapnel in my back. We were defending from around the wall, shooting and taking down some of the terrorists, when my friend who was next to me, Hallel Sa’adon, was killed. After a few seconds, I was worried they were going to take Hallel’s body, so I reached out my right hand to pull his body back to me – and that’s when I got shot in the lower arm. 

I pulled back, and started screaming at my friend to apply a tourniquet above my elbow, to cut off the blood flow to ensure I don’t bleed to death. I was in tremendous pain from the bullet and the tourniquet, and my friend followed protocol and ripped off the rest of my clothes except underwear, to ensure I wasn’t bleeding anywhere else. After I stabilized, I had to maneuver myself with one arm to try and get to the safest place that I could behind a wall.

For the next 5 hours, we were waiting for backup forces to come and rescue us. I tried my best to continue fighting off Hamas, but with only my left arm available, there were only so many shots I could take with my 15-pound Negev gun. I was lying on top of other soldiers, some dead and some alive. There were about 15 grenades thrown into our area, and each time I would protect my head with my left hand, say Shema, and be very thankful I was still alive after the explosion. As it was Simchat Torah, I sang Simchat Torah songs to myself, and even leined to myself the parts of my Bar Mitzvah parasha that I remembered by heart. 

AW: What happened when the backup forces arrived?

SK: When the Shayetet 13 (Navy Seals) arrived, we didn’t know if we could trust that they really were the IDF, since they could have been Hamas terrorists pretending to be in the IDF. They shouted out Shema Yisrael, Chag Sameach, and other ways to identify themselves, and our group lowered their weapons to allow them in. I was covered in blood, in pain and very dizzy, and one of them helped me out of the base. We got out of the base at 2:15pm, but by 3:00pm we still hadn’t been picked up by a helicopter to be taken to a hospital, since there were so many casualties all over the region. I got into a car, with six or seven other injured and dying soldiers piled into the back, and I was ready to drive us with only my left hand to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva, as we all really needed medical attention. A female officer talked me out of it, and she took the wheel. Eventually we met up with a helicopter at a landing spot, and were all taken to Soroka Hospital.

At Soroka, I was operated on, about nine hours after I was shot and my arm had been placed in a tourniquet. When I woke up, the first thing I noticed was that I still had my right arm. My parents later told me that when the doctors went in for surgery they weren’t sure if they’d be able to save my arm. But in the first operation to remove the bullet, they were able to save the arm. 

Soroka was overwhelmed with so many people, and so my parents arranged for me to be moved to Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem. By the time I arrived there, I had a serious problem with my kidney. Because I had the tourniquet on my arm for nine hours, large amount of toxins built up, and my kidney was failing. The doctor told us to pray that it would return to functionality, and thankfully it did.

For the next few weeks in Ein Kerem, I had an operation every three days on my arm, because of the damage caused by having no blood flow to it for 9 hours. I had surgery every Sunday and Wednesday. After a total of seven surgeries, I was transferred to Sheba to begin my rehabilitation.

Shlomo with Dr. Anna Weitzman, the head of the rehabilitation unit at Sheba hospital.

AW: What does rehabilitation involve?

SK: Every day I would have physical therapy, occupational therapy, and often psychology. I arrived at the beginning of November. On January 11th, I moved my right bicep independently for the first time. On January 28th, I moved my right wrist for the first time. At the end of March, I reached the milestone of being able to pick up a cup and take a drink of water. I am now an outpatient, traveling from Efrat to Tel HaShomer four times a week. They still have to see in a few months how my nerves are doing. 

After months of rehab, Shlomo drinking from a cup independently with his right arm for the first time.

What was your mood like during these months?

Honestly, at points it’s been pretty difficult, and I sometimes got irritated with my friends and the medical staff around me. However, I’ve been surrounded by so much support from my family, and the army has sent lots of support too. It’s been nice having groups visit from chutz la’aretz as well. Sometimes it can be a bit much, but they have also given generous gifts – one group gave me a new MacBook!

When I met with Shlomo, World Mizrachi Co-President Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman joined the meeting as well. 50 years ago, Rabbi Wasserman was in Sheba Medical Center for his own rehabilitation, after being injured in his tank by the Suez Canal. His wedding was delayed, and he was only released from the hospital eight months later. 

Since the founding of the state, thousands of Israel’s soldiers have been wounded and left with scars, both physical and psychological. That is the sacrifice paid by the defenders of our country. Shlomo, alongside thousands of other IDF heroes injured in this war, is doing what it takes to move forward with his life. Let us never forget their sacrifice.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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