Shalom, my name is Eial. This is a story about how making mezuzahs helped save me from a very, very, dark place that is known as combat related PTSD.
In August 2011, I turned 18-years old and like all Israeli men, it was my time to join the IDF. Following the footsteps of many men in my kibbutz, I volunteered for combat duty in the IDF’s venerable 35th Airborne Brigade. As my mother says, “that was not combat enough for her boy”, so I decided to also apply for service in the reconnaissance regiment of the brigade. The reconnaissance regiment is an elite special combat force that is the tip of combat spear.
My three years of service were nearly completed when on July 8th ,2014, Israel began “Operation Protective Edge”, an all-out assault against military forces of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza strip. It was a methodically slow and bloody 50-day military campaign. The mission was to destroy military capabilities of an enemy that challenged the sovereignty of Israel on a daily basis. I participated in this operation as a master sergeant in the reconnaissance regiment and found myself in many firefights. While I cheated death numerous times, my reconnaissance regiment lost 13 of the 69-soldiers who were killed during operation Protective Edge. Dozens more were injured, some maimed for life. When this 50-day war ended, I was an emotional mess. Little did I know that my war against PTSD had just begun.
I always liked the woodworking shop in my kibbutz. As a farm boy, I felt an affinity with oak and olive woods, as they represent deep roots to the land. The woodshop became my escape from people and my pain. The smell of the wood helped me forget the smell of gunpowder. Still, I was restless. One day, my hands were guided to create a mezuzah, a rather odd creation from a “super-secular” kibbutznik who hardly ever attended services in a synagogue.
Throughout the process, my thoughts drifted to the friends I had lost in combat. Their memory inspired me to finish one mezuzah after the other. It became a passion. Perhaps an obsession.
In looking at the final product, time-and-again, I experienced a sense of serenity. Giving the dead wood a new life as a memorial mezuzah became my therapy. This historic protective symbol of our people from death, became a living memorial for my soldiers and my friends who were killed in action. The profound meaning of the mezuzahs has a deep therapeutic effect on me which helps me cope with my PTSD.
Making mezuzahs is now my full-time work. Each and every mezuzah is dedicated to someone, complete with a name of a fallen soldier and the story of Operation Protective Edge.