In honor of the miracle-inspired holiday of Hannukah, we bring you a series of stories from around the IDF (Zahal) – stories of soldiers that, in keeping with the holiday, are truly miraculous. Check back throughout all eight nights of Hannukah for more enlightening stories. 

Back From the Brink of Death

About a month ago, well into the night, two vehicles collided head-on at an intersection near the Dead Sea, leaving the dead and wounded lying on the road.

Paramedics and firefighters were the first on the scene to begin the rescue mission and provide primary care. Around them, stunned citizens watched in shock and horror through the darkness. “It was a complete mess ,” says Lt. Moran Gershoni, who heads the military intensive care unit in the region. “The dead and wounded were scattered in the middle of the road. I climbed onto a vehicle and declared that I was running the show. I asked all the people in charge to send me representative. After understanding the entire picture, we divided responsibilities and got to work,” recalls Lt. Gershoni .

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

The accident left two dead on impact and six seriously injured, two of whom were in critical condition. One of the injured had a severe head injury, and was hovering between life and death. His vital signs were like a dead man’s, but Lt. Gershoni and her crew would not give up on him. They worked against time , refusing to stop resuscitation efforts.

“We worked hard on this injured man, nearly an hour,” describes Lt. Gershoni. “We gave him every medicine we had. We tried every possible procedure, and at the end, we were able to revive him and evacuate him to the hospital . Today he is alive,” she added.

The IDF (Zahal) Soldiers Who Prevented a Terror Attack

In January 2013, Major Faiz Feres was on a routine patrol when heard an urgent message over radio. “Suddenly I heard an explosion, and a few seconds later another explosion,” recalls Maj. Feres, a commander in the Kfir Brigade. Although he was far from the explosion, he noticed two suspects fleeing toward Nablus. His soldiers chased the terrorists until catching up with them, and detained the two suspects moments later. After carrying out a search, the soldiers found fire bombs and other explosives on the terrorists  making it clear that they were on the way to commit an attack.

“What was unusual about the incident was that we found a letter on the suspects, which was written in Arabic,” Maj. Feres says. “Because I know how to read Arabic, I could understand what was written.”

“The Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades take full responsibility for the blast in the community of Elon Moreh,” the letter read, explaining that the terrorists were planning to carry out a second terror attack that day. Almost a year later, Major Fares says that neutralizing the event was a true miracle. He credits the vigilance and determination of his soldiers for stopping the attack.

From Troubled Teenager to Elite IDF (Zahal) Soldier

Sergeant Avi Ohayun grew up in a close-knit community, surrounded by family and friends, but he fell into a rough crowd soon after starting high school. He abused alcohol, used drugs several times, and eventually developed a criminal record. After he took the tests for his IDF (Zahal) enlistment, the military decided to exempt him from military service. “Because of my record, they preferred not to deal with me,” Sgt. Ohayun says. Despite his problems, the troubled teenager was determined to defend his country, so he worked to overcome his challenges. He appealed the military’s exemption, writing several letters to demonstrate that he was in fact fit for military service. In an amazing turnaround, Sgt. Ohayun didn’t just join the military – he also passed the grueling tryouts for one of the IDF (Zahal)’s elite combat units. Today, between difficult training and top-secret missions, he serves as a counselor for at-risk youth in Israel. “It’s important for me to tell all of the young people whom the IDF (Zahal) rejected, and who come from a rough background like me – don’t give up,” Sgt. Ohayun says, filled with genuine optimism. “I know it’s a difficult problem – I was there too – I was sure wouldn’t enlist at a certain point, but all of you have a place in the units that you’re dreaming about.”

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

Sergeant Avi Ohayun

Saving a Soldier’s Life

It was just a regular night – just a routine security patrol near the Gaza border for Ashraf Bachiri, a Bedouin tracker in the IDF (Zahal). All of a sudden, Ashraf was on the ground and his whole body was in tremendous pain. A rocket from Gaza had hit the soldier’s jeep, setting the vehicle ablaze. The driver was seriously injured and bleeding, and two other soldiers were still inside the vehicle, also injured. As they fired back in the direction of the rocket fire, Ashraf called for an ambulance. Sergeant May Sabarsky and two other paramedics arrived at the scene and immediately began performing treatment. The driver was airlifted away to the hospital by helicopter, while May accompanied Ashraf to the hospital by car, trying to calm him down as she performed first aid on the soldier.

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

Bedouin trackers in action (Ashraf not pictured)

“She kept telling me that my friends were fine,” Ashraf says. May checked the soldier into the hospital and stayed by his side as he went into surgery. Miraculously, Ashrad survived the rocket attack, which occurred at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense last year.

As soon as he was well enough to go back to work, Ashraf returned to duty with his fellow soldiers. At the time, May was in the division headquarter’s clinic. “He walked in and immediately recognized me,” May recalls. Today, a year after the attack, both Ashraf and May are still in the same jobs as before, though their service has taken on a different meaning. Ashraf is still so grateful to May for going above and beyond her duty. “Doctors and paramedics have a lot to learn a lot from her,” he says.

The Deus Ex Machina

Captain Eilat Nadler doesn’t remember much of her 29th birthday. As she rode her bike around the base that day, she was hit by a car and instantly lost consciousness.  The driver drove away, leaving Eilat on the side of the rode with two fractures in her head, three broken ribs and a broken shoulder. That’s when her first miracle happened.

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

Left: Captain Eilat Nadler

Of all the drivers that could have come along the road that day, one of them happened to be Sagi Chai, a doctor. He found her, called an ambulance and treated her at the scene until the ambulance arrived. “If someone else would have found me or if I would have been found even one hour later, I would not be here today,” Eilat explains.

The next miracle was with her recovery. Doctors said it would take her at least six months for her to recover — if at all. But Eilat’s willpower overcame the odds. After a little more than two months, she was back at work as a deputy commander of Mikve Alon, an education base that integrates new immigrants into the army.

The Divinely Guided Bullet

In September 2012, Cpl. Motti Yalovsky and his good friend Nathaniel Yahalomi were part of a team of nine soldiers sent to reinforce a position along the Egyptian border, where a group of infiltrators were gathering. They were just setting up their camp when disaster struck. Three terrorists had managed to sneak up on them from behind.

“I’ll never forget that moment. My friend beside me asked if it was an exercise, and I shook my head no,” recalled Motti. The soldiers fell onto their stomaches and opened fire at the terrorists who had ambushed them. “Nathaniel was the closest and first to respond. He didn’t even have a helmet on,” recalled Motti.

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

Cpl. Motti Yalovsky

After a minute of hectic firing back and forth, Motti noticed that one of the terrorists had stood up. “I had a good angle from the ground. I propped up into a half-kneeling position, thinking my body was well-guarded behind our water tank.” Unfortunately, Motti was mistaken.

Motti’s right side was exposed to the fire of the terrorists. In one fierce moment, three bullets had sounded. Motti felt something tear through his stomach. “I didn’t really understand what was happening,” he said, “but I realized I was hurt. I tore off my shirt and tzitzit (tasseled religious garment), looked at my bloody hands and laid down.” The surgeon at the Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva would later inform Motti that the bullet had entered through his hip and out his stomach.

“Stay with me Motti!” pleaded his commander who had sat by his side. Motti began to lose consciousness quickly and his commander had to think fast of a way to keep him awake. With Motti’s life at stake, the commander plunged two fingers into the wound in his soldier’s belly. “The pain kept me conscious,” he said with a smile. “And that is basically how my commander saved my life.”

When the smoke had cleared, many were injured and all three terrorists were dead. “It was hard to tell who shot down the terrorists. But if I had to guess…” Motti’s voice suddenly turned quiet and solemn, “I would say it was Nathaniel.”

Following the surgery, the shocked surgeon spoke with Motti’s mother: “I have been a surgeon for many years and have never seen anything like this. It’s as if God had held the bullet in his hand–God!–and guided it through all the internal organs, leaving them perfectly intact.”

The injured soldiers had been airlifted to the hospital in a helicopter. For much of the ride, there was a body covered next to Motti. He was perplexed as to why this body wasn’t receiving any medical attention. Suddenly a sharp movement by the helicopter caused an arm to fall out. Motti instantly identified the wristwatch of his good friend Nathaniel, swinging freely like a pendulum.

“I realized then,” recalled Motti, his mind clearly lost in the memory, “that the body wasn’t being treated because there was nothing left to treat.”

The Miracle of Hannukah Finds New Meaning in the Lives of IDF Soldiers

Cpl. Nathaniel Yahalomi

Recently Motti, now an army medic, got engaged. The lucky girl heard her fiance’s story on the second date. “She was in shock,” he laughs. “But I asked her not to see me as someone who has gone through what I’ve gone through, but rather simply as I am, as Motti Yalovsky,” he said. In his humbled opinion, he believes “that every soldier is just like me. I’m just a simple guy. Another Joe Shmoe.”