Raymond Benedict, a Vietnam-era Marine and reservist, was haunted by horrific images from his years in the service. “I saw some things that left an indelible print on my mind,” he says. Forty-five years later, the West Milford resident was finally able to express his emotions without shame or indignity on a Heroes To Heroes trip to Israel. “I unloaded a burden that I carried for decades,” he says. “Now I’m free.”
Heroes To Heroes, based in Fort Lee, provides spiritual healing and peer support for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological traumas. Judy Schaffer, a radio advertising sales executive, founded the organization in 2010. Schaffer grew up in a military family and noticed a hole in aid to veterans. “No one is helping them heal their spirit,” says the Teaneck resident. “Without spiritual healing, you can’t heal physically.”
The privately funded and non-denominational organization has sent 63 veterans from across the United States on all-expenses-paid trips to Israel. Participants are not necessarily religious; most, Schaffer says, have lost their faith. Israeli veterans join the Americans for an intense tour that includes religious sites, rehabilitation centers, war memorials and military bases. The participants also plant trees or pick produce for the poor as a way of giving thanks for Israeli hospitality. The next trip is scheduled for October.
“Every single person has a life-changing experience,” says Schaffer. The participants form a bond that’s maintained after their trip through Facebook, e-mails and Skype conversations. In the company of fellow veterans, participants can reveal their emotional wounds.
“It was a beautiful therapy for all of us,” says the 73-year-old Benedict. “I’m blessed I was able to go on this journey at this time in my life.”
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