For more than half his life Gilad Shimon Vital, a singer and musician, lived in a place of dark and ongoing trauma- the depths of which he was not even aware- rather than progressing along a healthier more natural course. Thus began his journal of his recovery from the burden of trauma.
Written by Hagar Ram
The name Gilad Shimon Vital, was chosen by his father who was rescued from the Nazi horror, as a symbol of a new, young, a promising Israel. The years passed, and Gilad, unknowingly, had a blurred memory which slowly became stronger and stronger that he was unable to let go of. Only at age 36, years after he was released from the army, together with Roi Levi (a childhood friend from Metula) did they form the “Shotei Hanevua” band which was later disbanded after Gilad got married and became a father. In his mind, every experience he went through after his service compared to the experience of shooting and killing a terrorist that occurred during his time in the military. He suddenly realized that he was living with trauma. And so, with this understanding, he began the journey to lift the burden of trauma on his life, a journey in returning to himself – to Gilad.
Gilad is now 47 years old and grew up in Metula. He is married to Natalie and the father of Dvir, now living in Katzir. He was born in Haifa, to his parents Rina and Haim Shimon Vital. His mother immigrated to Israel from Egypt, and his father was born in Paris to Jewish parents who originated from Turkey. When his father was 5 years old, the Germans entered France, shortly after which, his parents, Gilad’ grandparents, suddenly disappeared. Haim and his sister Jeanette were left alone, abandoned. A kind neighbor hid them in her house for as long as she could, and later transferred them both to catholic monasteries where they grew up. Two years after the war, Rina Vital’s parents came from Turkey and took the children in.
But life there turned out to be “worse than they could have imagined or predicted” says Haim, whose eyes are still filled with tears 70 years later. The trauma of his parents’ disappearance and their murder by the Nazis, together with the life of hell that he experienced in his grandparents’ home, did not let go. “They have been with me all my life” says Haim, “and as much as I tried to give my children a happy childhood and happy life, I could not prevent the impact of my pain on their lives.
The Gilad of today agrees with his father and puts his arms around his shoulders and is no longer angry at anyone. His father has nothing left but memories. They chased him throughout his life and filled his heart and soul with pain and a longing for his parents. For his mother’s embrace and for the family he had. When his father made Aliyah and came to Israel, he did everything possible to become a proud Israeli.
“My father chose Zionism”, Gilad says. “He enlisted in the army, fought and dreamed. He devoted his life to the land of Israel, to the establishment of an independent state, to education and to working with children. He fulfilled and completed everything that was taken from him and received a great deal of satisfaction in return, tremendous professional appreciation and huge love from the generations of children who studied with him and were educated about his legacy”
“Dad chose life” says Gilad. “He fought in the fields and still chose a life of joy, creativity and love, and did everything possible to give us, his children, a normal life. From him, I received a love of music and creativity. But more than that, without even understanding the trauma that remained in him; the pain and memories that had been ingrained in him, had flowed into my veins, and continued in me all my life. And I had no idea how his trauma impacted me until everything I too had gone through concentrated together and built up, causing me to start to explode.”
Gilad continued, “…And it is precisely today, when I am settled with my life, that I give the influences of the holocaust and my fathers’ memories and pain a place of honor in my work and in my life. I see life as a continuous construction; all we encounter, everything that happens to us, every event and encounter with people, all becomes part of our journey of life as we attempt to find the harmony between the joy and the pain, the fear and understanding, the constrictions, the hope and the trust”
Gilad sees life very optimistically, even though the journey to get to accepting his life as a miracle was not simple for him or for those surrounding him. “Life in Metula was good, fun and what we thought of as relatively normal. However, there is obviously nothing normal or natural with living under attack. We were innocent and naive, and did not relate to fear or danger. We grew up as children of nature, we played in the woods and when bombs fell, we hid behind trees. It’s not normal” he laughs.
He joined the Golani Brigade and served in the 13th Battalion under the command of Gadi Eizenkot who is now the Chief of staff “an unusual, rare, sensitive and wise man”. After finishing basic training and officer’s course, he was stationed with his friends near the Lebanon Border. For weeks and months he and his friends were ambushed in Lebanon, holding outposts, patrolling the fences – it was an “incredibly intense service, without sleep or relaxation for even a minute”
A jolt of mind:
“I was a very intense soldier” he says. “I’ve known this specific field since childhood. I know what there is here, what to expect, I do not give up on anything. They called me Spitz. Most of the time I was assigned to do the night patrols with a collective team; a platoon officer, a tracker, a driver and me. We were good together, good friends. Night after night we went out on tour, opened the map to examine our route and did everything necessary according to the book. We never missed anything, knowing every bend and every fold on earth”
Was it scary?
“We didn’t feel the fear. We knew what we needed to do and how to conduct ourselves. We were devoted to our missions, very well briefed and very determined”.
On the eve of June 4, 1989, the big explosion that threw Gilad into the abyss of chaos, anger, pain and confusion occurred. An event so profoundly impactful that only years later, could he begin to understand how much it shook both his soul and life.
“We were on regular patrols, towards the end of the shift. We were about to patrol the electric fence to check that everything has been cleared so we can finish. Then we get a call about someone touching the fence. We’re in a huge area and we had already done seven hours of work. We are exhausted and freezing. Usually, it is some sort of animal touching the fence, but procedures are procedures and you have to go back and do the entire route over again. I tell my team to get up again and get to work. We knew where the touch was recorded on the gate, and began approaching close to it. There was heavy fog and it was almost five in the morning, and I was with the projector on the fence. ”
“Suddenly I see a man rise and pick up a missile, with his finger on the trigger aiming directly at me. I react immediately by pulling the trigger and shooting him directly in the head, because if it’s not him, it’s me. I remember exactly what was going on in my head that second, the fear that its maybe even our soldier…I open fire and remember that everything I trained for is now really happening. I follow the fall and destroy the ammunition. Behind him comes another terrorist and I have no idea with this all happening that Nir Keenan is the commander here on this mission. The tracker, Hassin Muktaran, from my crew had already jumped and stormed forward, so I too jumped up and started running trying to avoid bullets next to my legs, below me, over me. Finally my officer yelled “stop, stop, stop”, and as he shouts, I hear a huge explosion behind me, maybe five meters away. I turned around and saw a huge burning fire and as heads turned to see what it was I realized that a missile was fired at us. Nir started running forward and I felt my legs frozen in place, and yet I got up and started to storm too. I caught up to Nir, the commander, and landed like a sack of potatoes on the ground and all I can see around me is thick smoke. I crawled to Nir and I just see blood. I pulled out any bandages and straps I had and put them on him before calling for a medic. Until the medic arrived, I fell on my knees and shot towards the direction of the terrorist to neutralize him and in the corner of my eye I saw something moving and turning. I almost shot, but held back. Luckily, I did, as they were our own forces. The officer who was in front, that I almost shot was Gadi. Gadi Eizenkot (the current IDF Chief of Staff); an amazing man”.
“And that’s it. I realized that a rescue force had arrived, and I laid my head on the scorched ground. When I raised it, I heard ”Medic! Medic!”, and saw medics running toward Hassin. I was yet to understand that he was killed by the terrorist who attacked us. We later learned that their plan was to kidnap a group of kindergarten children and we fortunately we had managed to stop them.
Hassin was killed and Nir was taken to the hospital allowing Shamir, Perez and Rabin to visit. We were all over Channel 1 and spread across newspapers, and then right after, I went back to being a regular soldier. I remember that I was in the market and thought that life is one big miracle because I could have been the one killed. The terrorist tried to kill me but I reacted first and killed him before he could kill me. This was the first time I killed someone. After everything finished, it was as if nothing had happened. After that I joined the patrol of Unit 13 until the liberation and everything was as if ‘okay’. But in fact, nothing was okay. It didn’t leave me for a second. I thought about it every day, all day”
Did you request treatment? Help?
“No. Somehow it got a little better. In 1991 I was released. I returned to Metula, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. My love of music was in the background but I didn’t think to do anything with it. I loved cars and motorcycles and therefore decided to study mechanical engineering, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. My friends flew to Thailand and in 1992 I went and joined them.
Discovering another reality
In Thailand, Gilad met his good friends Roy Levi and Hagai Tal – the brother of the singer Avraham Tal. “I suddenly discovered a different reality from everything I knew,” he says, “We all became crazy, fearless and careless… We were in heaven, but at the same time I continued to feel like I was a soldier. I met Germans and heard them speaking German and it destroyed me; I thought I was going crazy. I suddenly realized that I wanted to make people happy, to sing, to create and make music. I wanted to convey the message that we Jews, Israelis, are a generation with a country and a language. It was due to all that chaos I had gone through that I had a clear understanding of how much life is worth living, and yet the Golani soldier in me wouldn’t leave. It wouldn’t let go.”
“I went to Florida after and worked in a swimwear shop. I was happy. One day, I met a “mafioso” who offered me a different job working with the drug cartel in Columbia and it didn’t even scare me. Nothing scared me because I had already killed someone, so what could possibly happen to me?”
“In the end I decided to stay in Florida, I met an English girl, fell in love and we lived together. I then began waking up from recurring nightmares and delusional dreams, soaked with sweat, but I didn’t attribute it to anything. I was sure that this was normal. One day the English girl just got up and walked away, and my heart was broken to pieces.”
“I returned to Israel, moved to Tel Aviv, and together with Roi we founded the “Shotei Hanevua” band.” Later, Amit Carmeli (initially producer and later a member of the band), Assi Givati, Avraham Tal and Idan Carmeli joined too. They had been together for 12 years, playing, singing and performing”.
Why did you break up?
“Six guys together, every day, all day – it’s hard. We worked very hard but at a certain point we could not go on anymore. I think the band didn’t know how much trauma I was experiencing. I wanted music and to perform, and even though I was doing all that, I wasn’t enjoying it. I worked out my sense of duty like a soldier, without allowing myself to actually enjoy. I reached the stage of rages and outbursts and then the band itself became a battlefield. One day we just decided that it was enough”
When did you understand your situation?
“In 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, I was already married to Natalie and father to Dvir, who was two years old. We lived in Bat Shlomo. I was outside and heard explosions and I was suddenly overwhelmed by fear, I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t know what was happening to me.”
“My wife took me to the hospital and the doctor asked me if I had experienced any type of trauma in my life …boom! I was immediately hit by images of terrorists but still didn’t connect it to anything. The doctor said it was an anxiety attack, he gave me a tranquilizer and suddenly I felt calm – something I hadn’t felt for years. I didn’t recognize myself like this. Suddenly I realized how all those years I had a tremendous urge to attack. I didn’t understand it because I was a good person, I love people, so why did I feel like I wanted to kill anyone standing in my way? Where did this anger come from? The pill literally released all the built up tension and cleansed me. Slowly I started to understand the relation between the trauma that weighed me down for so many years and everything else that had happened in my life. Quickly I realized how much it dominated and continued to dominate my life. ”
Touching the painful places
“In 2007 the band broke up following a big argument. I felt like a Hezbollah fighter, without a reckoning to anyone, and with a constant rage. I was left with nothing. I tried to set up another band with Roi, but it didn’t succeed. I was frustrated and angry. I was offended by everyone, especially by the people of Israel, for whom I tried so hard to give everything of mine and who didn’t accept what I had to give … I stopped functioning. I hated the world. My wife supported me but I only closed off more and more. People who loved me tried to help me. I went to private treatment and opened a little. I started to give musical workshops here and there and then one day I heard a NATAL advertisement on the radio with a phone number. I dialed, hung up, and saved the number. I was afraid to call. After a while, when things started to fall apart around me, I finally picked up the phone and called. Finally.”
“Yes. At last I was brave and spoke to someone at NATAL, who asked me what I was experiencing, and I began pouring and spilling it all out. I was scheduled to meet with a therapist named Noa. And there we began to face this challenge, starting with my childhood. Everything is connected. It’s inseparable. It was only there that I realized how much time I had been on constant alert with a charged weapon always near me. How much I carried in me without knowing or understanding. The meetings at NATAL lasted two years, during which we worked on the areas that most affected me. I learned to enjoy myself again, to discover myself, to learn and to be a civilian. The intensive treatment, the new learning, the perseverance all gave me the passion and desire to recover”.
Gilad, now ever smiling, fruitful and flourishing, takes us to Metula, to his childhood home. To his old room, to the nearby grove of trees where he played with his friends, to the magical hut where we saw the village boys playing guitar and drums, showing us how Pink Floyd can sound alive and not just on records. ”
Today, he lives in Katzir with Natalie, who also works in art and follows the creative streak, and Dvir who grew up to be a happy child to a happy father. Together with Roi Levy, a childhood friend and co-founder of the Fools of Prophecy, he founded “Shimon and Levi” and together they writes compose, perform and volunteer at every opportunity to help wounded IDF soldiers, trauma victims, teenagers and soldiers.
Are you angry at the army?
“No, no, I love Golani, the battalion, admire and love Gadi Eisenkot, the chief of staff; I love IDF soldiers and I volunteer and contribute as much as I can. When I recognize soldiers in my performances I am so proud of them. The soldiers are sent to defend our country, to protect it. It should be clear to everyone. ”
Today, do you enjoy performing?
“So much. At the age of 45, I changed my life, discovered myself, freed myself from the burden I had been carrying in me for so many years and learned that I was allowed to enjoy music, which was my miracle.
You chose to live in Katzir, in the heart of Wadi Ara, surrounded by Arab residents and the sounds of mosques
Gilad laughs: “I’m always on the fence, literally.”