IDF Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog is revered not primarily for his military success, but mainly for his deep compassion and profound dedication to improving the lives of the physically and cognitively disabled – characteristics not typically attributed to an expert warrior.
Doron Almog is an Israeli military hero who participated in some of the most daring operations, including the secret airlift of 6,000 Jews from Ethiopia in the 1980s and as a leading commander in the Entebbe rescue operation of 1976, when 100 IDF commandos rescued 102 hostages held by terrorists in Uganda. More recently, in 2000-2003, as head of the Southern Command, he foiled each infiltration attempt by terrorists from Gaza.
Yet what Almog, 63, considered his greatest achievement was caring for his severely disabled son Eran, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 23.
Since the age of 13, Eran had been cared for at one of the three facilities run by Aleh, a nonprofit organization that provides state-of-the-art medical, educational and rehabilitative care to over 650 children with cognitive and physical difficulties at four facilities throughout Israel.
Almog, deeply involved in support for the Aleh network, raised funds to establish a new wing at the center, which was named Beit Eran, after his brother who was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (Almog’s son was named after his late uncle.)
“In Entebbe,” Almog said in an interview with Israel21C several years ago, “it was possible to free the hostages. But Eran and those like him spend their entire lives as hostages – hostages of society and its stronger members. There is no single operation that will set them free. All you can do is try to give them a better future… That is what I am trying to do, and it remains the greatest challenge of my life.”
More than a decade ago, Almog left his brilliant army career to found a new Aleh center in southern Israel for young adults – Aleh Negev, a rehabilitative village that provides severely disabled young men and women the opportunity to live a rich and productive life within a safe environment.
“Eran, my beloved son, who never called me Abba [Hebrew for Dad] and never made eye contact with me, was the greatest teacher of my life,” Almog stated at the ceremony marking the foundation of the new center in 2003. “He taught me the meaning of unconditional love. He taught me to hear the soundless cries of the hundreds of children like him. He taught me that the focus of our actions should not be the glorification of one’s ego. Rather, we should be focused on helping people like him.”
“There were friends who advised us to send him away,” Almog told Israel21C. “I think the most significant decision we made was to raise him, love him and never be ashamed of him. Raising Eran has made me a better human being. By constantly being forced to ask myself what he needs, I became a more sensitive person, more attuned to those with limitations.”
After Eran’s death, the village was renamed ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran. Almog is the voluntary chairman.
Speaking with Chabad.org after his son’s death, Almog explained: “During the course of my life, I have accepted upon myself two commitments which have changed and shaped my life. Firstly, to fight for the security of the Land of Israel and my people. Secondly, to offer a future of hope for the weakest and most defenseless members of Israeli society.”
ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran represents a unique achievement for the State of Israel, the village’s website states. “Its cutting-edge concept – empowering adults with severe disabilities to interact with the outside world and enjoy a real quality of life – has set a new benchmark in the field of special education and attracted the attention of experts across the globe.”
By: United with Israel Staff
(With files from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aleh.org and Israel21C)