“They covered my eyes with a mask…”

Former Syrian POW speaks

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How is Gilad Shalit feeling? What could be on his mind as he enters his 256th week of captivity under Hamas? Only his captors know, but a few dozen Israelis could offer clues, having experienced imprisonment under Hamas’ patron, Syria.

“They covered my eyes with a mask and I found myself in a one by two meter cell with two dirty blankets,” said Rabbi Noach Hertz, a veteran of the Yom Kippur War whose fighter plane crashed outside Damascus during a bombing mission. Hertz spoke on May 24 at Yeshiva Ohel Simcha in Kew Gardens Hills in a lecture sponsored by Chazaq, a local outreach organization.

“Everyone of us is a pilot and we have many tests and difficulties. Thank G-d we have Torah and we know how to fly through our lives,” Rabbi Hertz said. He did not always share this view. On the eve of Yom Kippur, he was a secular newlywed engineer with a pregnant wife and child, when the alarm sounded and he scrambled to the nearest air force base. “I was in the cockpit in three hours but we were not prepared. They astonished us,” Rabbi Hertz said.

Flying towards Damascus, he witnessed his colleagues shot down, as he dodged missiles, flying low to the ground to avoid radar detection. Of the ten planes that were hit, only five pilots succeeded in parachuting alive. Rabbi Hertz also jumped, losing conscience. He awake in a Syrian hospital without his right leg. After three days, he was thrown in a dimly lit cell and subject to interrogation. “They hit and gave you electroshocks.

You can’t imagine, Rabbi Hertz said. After six weeks, he had his first shower, removing layers of bandage encrusted with dried blood. “I’ve never drank that much water and today I say to my grandchild how thankful I am for water.”

For four and a half months, Rabbi Hertz was isolated from the world. “The most difficult thing is to be alone and you don’t know how the war finished and if my wife had a boy or a girl. I cried out like a child because I did not know how to pray,” Rabbi Hertz said. It was then that he cried out shema Israel, the most basic Jewish prayer. “Every time I remember it, I get excited, the feeling of prayer at that time.”

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