Chanan Porat wounded in the hospital. (Photo: Haggai Huberman)
From the Hell of the Yom Kippur War:
Rav Chanan Porat’s Miraculous Survival
BY HAGGAI HUBERMAN
The sirens of the alarm that broke the silence of Yom Kippur 5734 throughout the country symbolized the beginning of a new era in the history of the State of Israel, different from anything the country had experienced during the first 25 years of its existence. In a complete surprise, at least to most of the citizens of Israel, the armies of Egypt and Syria attacked the complacent State of Israel. Their forces broke through Israel’s defensive lines in the Golan Heights and in Sinai, and rushed forward. In the Golan Heights, which had largely fallen into the hands of the Syrian army, the IDF managed after only five days to contain the Syrians and push them back – and even penetrate deep into Syrian territory. On the Sinai front, where the Egyptian army had no intention of advancing beyond a range of ten kilometers anyway, the tide turned after ten days, when the IDF crossed the canal to the west and advanced into the interior of Egypt.
When the war broke out, Rav Chanan Porat put on his uniform and returned to the army. The brigade to which he belonged reached Tessa in northern Sinai. Uri Elitzur, who knew Chanan since the days they had studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, was among the fighters who came to Sinai from the Golan. “We landed in helicopters, and I was sure that we were beyond enemy lines,” he recalled. “We started moving through the dunes, with our guns locked and loaded, not knowing who was where, expecting a surprise attack by the enemy at any moment. After a long walk, suddenly we see a group sitting around a fire, and Chanan is giving them a shiur! This was the first ‘enemy’ we encountered.”
On Shabbat morning, Parashat Bereishit, after the IDF crossed the Suez Canal near Ismailia – the second wave of success – an eighty-two millimeter mortar shell fell on Chanan, hit his shoulder and exploded behind him. A large amount of blood burst from his body. The medic tried to stop the bleeding with his standard bandages, and when this didn’t work, he tore the heavy army uniform off Chanan and tried to stop the bleeding with their help.
Chanan’s friends dragged him, naked, to a dilapidated dugout. They cried desperately for a half-track to evacuate him. Chanan felt that his time was running out. “Gasping for breath,” as he wrote in one of his letters, he was sure that these were his final moments. “In my mind I parted from all my relatives and friends, from Abba, Ima, my wife and my children.”
Serving in the medical battalion that operated in the battle area was Rav Shabtai Sabato, one of the top students at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav and later the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Mitzpeh Yericho. He and Chanan had gotten to know each other a few years before the war, in Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav, when Rav Sabato, then a young 18-year-old student, stood near the older students to listen to their Torah conversations. “There I met the first rank of Torah scholars who later became rashei yeshiva, rabbis of communities, rabbis of cities. Among them, Rav Chanan Porat, then only ‘Chanan,’ stood out. He was a figure who could not be ignored, radiant and radiating.”
On that day, Rav Sabato and his friends were overwhelmed by the large number of wounded soldiers. They worked day and night. Suddenly Rav Sabato realized that one of the seriously injured soldiers rushed to them was Chanan Porat. “I was shocked. He was very pale, as if completely bloodless. I noticed that he was bandaged. And I realized that a mistake had been made: he was brought to us even though he was already bandaged and should have been placed in the line of the wounded waiting to be flown to the hospital. But since Chanan was already there, I decided to examine him.”
The examination saved Chanan’s life. Sabato discovered that in the storm of battle, the medics made a mistake and had not bandaged one of his severe wounds. The blood was draining so heavily from him that Chanan was about to die. The medics hurried to dress the wound, but even so, the doctor estimated that Chanan had no chance of reaching the hospital alive after losing so much blood. Since they had no more doses of blood left, the doctor ordered three medics, including Rav Sabato, to lie on the floor and donate blood. They quickly checked which blood was suitable, and injected it into Chanan’s body. “Suddenly the color came back to his cheeks, and we saw how a dead man could come back to life,” Rav Sabato recalled. “He opened his eyes, looked at me and recognized me. I said to him: ‘Chanan, when you get back to Israel, say hello to my parents.’ We didn’t know if we would get out of that inferno alive.”
Ari Elon, son of Judge Menachem Elon and brother of Rabbi Benny Elon, was among those who evacuated Chanan by helicopter. “Chanan was waiting for the helicopter to evacuate him,” he recalled, “and the chief medic, Professor Itamar Pitovsky, told me that I should talk to him the entire flight because he is in a serious condition, and that he should not be given water.” And that’s exactly what Ari Elon did: he talked to Chanan the entire time so he wouldn’t lose consciousness. “Chanan was in a stupor, but he managed to talk to me. He showed me his daughter Efrat’s red hat. I wanted to see if he was conscious and so I asked him what day it was. Half fainting, Chanan answered: ‘Today is Shabbat, שַׁבָּת הִיא מִלִּזְעֹק וּרְפוּאָה קְרוֹבָה לָבֹא, Shabbat is not a day to cry out, may healing soon come.’ Then he tried to wink at me and convince me to give him water, even though the doctor forbade it. I said goodbye to him when the helicopter took him to the hospital.”
The long weeks of recovery after the injury led Chanan to long reflections and soul-searching. ‘Why was I injured? Why was I saved? What hint was Heaven sending me? What is the most important thing I can do so that this life, which was given to me as a gift, will not be in vain?’ As he continued thinking, he came to the conclusion that if he had received his life as a gift, he must now dedicate it to action on behalf of the people of Israel. But what should he do? This he didn’t yet know.
One of the articles that influenced him in those days, when he was lying wounded in the hospital, was an article that he read in the kibbutz movement’s magazine, Shadmot. The article was written by the journalist Arnon Lapid, a member of Kibbutz Givat Chaim Ichud, and its title was “An Invitation to Cry.” Despair seeped into him from every line: “Together we will cry over the dreams we have given up, over the great things that have become small, over the gods who lied, over the false prophets who have risen to greatness, for the lack of taste, the lack of will, the lack of power, for the present that does not possess a single ray of light, and for the future that will be never be the same. We will cry for the newly bereaved, the new widows and the new orphans, for the strong friendships that were cut apart, for the illusions that were shattered, for the speculations that were proven to be baseless, for the truths that were discovered to be lies, for the plans that were made but will never happen and for the sadness that came down like a cloud over every joy, forever…”
“Lapid’s deep despair hurt me so much,” Chanan later said, “that I felt that the wounds were reopening in me: Master of the universe, after all the trials and crises and failures, Am Yisrael rose up and defeated its enemies. If we had merited it, we would be obligated to say Hallel for victory in the Yom Kippur War – and he invites us to cry? At that moment, the spark was born in me that later led me to establish Gush Emunim.”
● This article was originally published in Hebrew in Matzav HaRuach.
Haggai Huberman is an Israeli journalist and author, and the editor of Matzav HaRuach.