Reif Kopel, who turned 87 yesterday, has volunteered consistently in an IDF medical equipment workshop for over 20 years
As Reif Kopel celebrated his 87th birthday yesterday (Tuesday, July 17), he was surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and other relatives – as well as colleagues from the medical equipment workshop at the IDF's Tzrifin base, where he has volunteered for over 20 years.
Kopel spends seveal hours at the workshop every morning, repairing medical equipment with skill that impresses even his commanders. "He manages to restore even equipment that we had planned to throw out," noted Maj. Hagai Zamir, commander of the workshop, with pride.
Kopel's military career began well before the formation of the IDF. As a child in Kolomyia, Ukraine, he was drafted into the Soviet Red Army, in which he fought against the Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
Seeking to recover from the events of the war and the Holocaust, in which much of his family had been killed, Kopel took a number of short-term jobs. "I had gotten used to a situation in Russia in which if you didn't work, you didn't eat. I went to work as a clerk in the Ministry of Labor," he recounted, emphasizing the importance of manual labor, which he tries to instill in the younger generation. "During my time in Russia, work was what saved me from death and slaughter," he said.
Kopel immigrated to Israel in 1948 and enlisted in the Palmach, in which he served as a combat driver in the Negev. But while patrolling along the Egyptian border together with Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev – who would go on to head the Technology and Logistics Branch in the late 1960s – Kopel suffered a leg injury as a result of a landmine explosion.
While recovering in the hospital, he was visited by Yitzhak Rabin and Yigal Alon, who had both fought alongside him in the Palmach. He also first met his future wife while in the hospital; Anita and Reif were married for over 60 years.
Following his military service, he worked at a pump factory for 30 years. After retiring, he decided that his working days were not yet past, and he began searching for a new type of work."I felt that I needed to work," he explained. "First I looked for work in the private sector, and then I contacted the Ministry of Defense looking to work. They directed me to the medical equipment center. I fell in love with the type of work they do, and since then I haven't missed a single day of work." Kopel is considered a Holocaust survivor and a disabled IDF veteran, yet he doesn't let either of these designations stop him. With the support of his two children and five grandchildren, he continues to volunteer. Two years ago, he began to write his memoirs, with funding from the Yad Sarah organization. The cover of that book, which is expected to be published in several months, shows a large tree on a white background.
"This tree symbolizes my life," he explained. "There are barely any roots, and the trunk is rotten and dry. But from that, I managed to grow into a beautiful tree, full of leaves. I managed to flourish beyond my expectations."