The media coverage of Donald Trump saying that being a prisoner of war did not make John McCain a hero and the subsequent outrage travelled all the way to Israel.

I became completely baffled when I started hearing/reading statements of: “He can’t say that!” Have Americans completely forgotten the point of America?! Have Americans forgotten the concept of freedom?

Any American can say whatever they (excuse my language) damn well please. That is the fundamental freedom. Without freedom of speech, freedom of thought is swiftly lost. After that all other freedoms are very easy to take a way.

Of course there are consequences to things said, as there are to actions taken, however each individual is free to suffer whatever consequences they might choose to incur. Donald Trump is free to say whatever he wants. He is free to think whatever he wants. And I will defend that right any day of the week.

Now – about the content. Does being captured and held as a prisoner of war make you a hero?

America seems to be a very confused nation…

A hero is someone who has overcome something terribly dangerous or difficult. A hero is someone who put the well-being of others before their own safety. Someone who overcame limitations that would normally hold others back.

I know what heroes are. Israel is full of them.

One thing that I can say for sure is that heroes never call themselves a hero. They tend to shy away from any mention of their heroic actions. They don’t look for the limelight.

Heroes will tell you that they didn’t do enough. That others did more. They are the people who run in to burning buildings or pull people out of burning tanks and despair over the lives they did not save.

If you have a relative who fought in WW2 ask him. They will all tell you, regardless of their actions during the war: “The heroes are the ones that didn’t come back.”

Being a captured doesn’t make you a hero. Being captured and helping others escape is heroic. Being captured and helping others stay sane and hopeful is a type of heroism. Surviving torture and succeeding in building a normal life afterwards takes heroic effort.

Heroism isn’t necessarily one grand action. Overcoming the endless little challenges of a difficult life is a kind of heroism too. The poor single mother that works multiple jobs and makes sure her children are educated, well brought up and stay out of gangs and crime is a hero too. She too, in her own way, is saving lives against all odds.

Being an Olympic athlete doesn’t make you a hero. Being a basketball player or movie star doesn’t make you a hero. Christopher Reeve for example, was Superman in the movies – until a riding injury paralyzed him from the neck down – and he became Superman for real. Like being taken hostage, it is not the injury that made Reeve a genuine Superman, it is what he did with his life afterwards. It is not the position or a condition a person is in, it is the choices they make about what to do with the situation or condition they are in.

While average people run away from danger, heroes run towards danger.
While average people worry about protecting their own lives first, heroes worry first about others.
While average people congratulate themselves on their achievements, heroes tend to despair over what they did not achieve, wishing they had done more.

Americans probably imagine heroes as big strong men with bulging muscles that are never afraid. Living in Israel has taught me that heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Heroes tend to be people that are afraid and do things anyway. That is the true meaning of courage. Heroes are people that insist on doing what is right, no matter how their actions might affect their own personal safety.

Being a POW didn’t make John McCain a hero. I have no interest in the man himself or his military record. Personally every time I hear his name the picture of McCain hugging Syrian ‘rebels’ comes to mind. No amount of PR spin can put a good flavor on that… (does anyone remember the time when the world was horrified at the Syrian ‘rebel’ eating the liver of the enemy he had just killed?). The friend of my enemy’s enemy is not my friend.


Yael laughed when one of them called her a hero. The slash marks evident on her face she said: “I just did what I had to do.” And then looking straight in to the camera she said: “I want a message to go out to all the people. Each one of us has more strength inside than you would ever imagine. Use it. Don’t ever give in. Don’t ever give up”

For those who don’t recognize heroes in their own lives, I can give examples of real Israeli heroes. They are real people. Not characters in movies or storybooks.

They are the mothers who fought armed terrorists with bare hands to save their children. Yael is one of them. They are the every-day heroes who strive to save lives, even under fire. They are the soldiers who sacrificed themselves to save those they were responsible for like Roi Klien. They are the regular people, the civilians like Haim Smadar who purposely placed themselves in front of terrorists to protect others. They are the leaders like Ziv Shilon and the freedom fighters who speak for what is right although it puts them in life threatening danger like Muhammad  Zoabi and Yehuda Glick. The list goes on and on…

I know what heroes are. Israel is full of them.

These are the people I live amongst.

Forest Rain:

“May my tongue cleave to my mouth, if I ever think not of thee, if I ever prize not Jerusalem above all joys!” Psalm 137

Originally posted on writings from Israel...:

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Against all odds

I have lost count of the number of times I’ve found myself sitting in front of the news with tears rolling down my face. Israeli reality is that of sharp contrasts and strong emotions. There is no apathy here.

Tears of heart-rending grief, tears of helplessness against horror and sometimes tears of pride and joy. Sometimes there are no words to explain the tears – only at seeing something that is eminently right.

This past week I found myself crying because of the joy of a 90 year old Sue Friedman at making aliyah to Israel. She was one of 221 new immigrants from across the US and Canada who decided to come home to Israel. 221 people left comfortable homes and easy lives in North America to move to Israel, not the most simple place in the world to be but the only place on earth a Jew can truly claim as his or her homeland.

At the same time America was busy destabilizing the Middle East with the capitulation deal to Iran. A deal that puts Israel in direct existential danger. Ironically while in cities across Iran the people were burning American and Israeli flags, shouting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel,” the Americans were ironing out the final details of the agreement which they signed in Theodor Herzl Square in Vienna – named for the founding father of the modern state of Israel.

While the American government was officially denying the danger to Israel, denying the existential threat, 221 people aliyah photo -Jacob Richmandecided to build new lives in Israel. Including 90 year Sue Friedman. She explained that she had wanted to move to Israel from the time she was 13, when her parents left Germany for a better and safer life in the United States. It was 1938 and they escaped to the safety of America, just in time. Five children, 18 grandchildren, and 37 great-grandchildren later, she is moving to Ra’anana, Israel. Today, she has two daughters and their families living in Israel, including her granddaughter Member of Knesset Rachel Azaria.

The contrast is incomprehensible. In 1938 the Jewish family escaped Germany just in time to avoid the horrors of the Holocaust. At the time there was no Jewish State so they moved to America. In 2015 the granddaughter of that escapee is a Member of Knesset, a Parliament member in the State of Israel. And America, the supposed protector of Israel has just heightened the existential threat to the tiny country, making a deal with Iran who openly declares the desire to wipe Israel off the map.

What kind of person chooses to move to a country that is so threatened? These are not people who are blind to the danger. They make the choice despite the difficulties that are sure to come. These are people with hope. People who know that it is right for Jewish people to live in their Land.

There is no place like home.

Maybe that is what caused my tears – the knowledge that, against all odds there is still hope. That there are those willing to endure hardships for what is right. I know what it is like to start life over, making the move from America to Israel. It is no easy task.

But it is the right thing to do.

The following is a real life scenario that happened before I was born gardenand molded my perspective on the world…

Mrs. Bailey stood on the other side of the newly installed fence watching my mother. On her knees, my mother was working through the soil of her backyard, picking chunks of glass out of the ground, mostly remnants of long discarded beer bottles. The land needed to be thoroughly cleaned up before she could plant the garden she wanted.

As my mother worked Mrs. Bailey smoked her cigarette. She lived in the house next door with her teenaged children: a son, 4 unmarried daughters and a handful of grandchildren from various fathers. Her married daughter and son-in-law lived in an upstairs flat. There were always lots of people going in and out of their home. Mrs. Bailey had lived in that house for a number of years. My mother had just moved in next door.  It was a year before she was to meet my father.

The house was not in great condition but my mother saw it’s potential. After renovation it would be beautiful. The long, narrow yard had been neglected for many years.  It was no more than an abandoned field strewn with pieces of broken bottles, bits of trash and a large, old, scraggly tree which would need to be removed. It would take a lot of work and dedication to clean it up but when she was done, my mother knew she would be able to create a gorgeous garden.

The first step had been to replace the rickety old fence.  Now, piece by piece, a square foot at a time, my mother picked up the glass, bottle caps and pull tabs. Slowly she was cleaning up the land while imagining what she would plant. Toiling, on her hands and knees, sweat rolling down her forehead, she worked as Mrs. Bailey watched.

“What are you doing?” asked Mrs. Bailey.

My mother explained to her that she was cleaning the land, that after removing the rubbish she’d plant all kinds of plants and create a beautiful garden.

Mrs. Bailey puffed on her cigarette. “I can’t have me no garden.”

“Oh? Why not?” asked my mother.

“Ain’t got no one to do it for me.” said Mrs. Bailey

My mother was stunned. She didn’t know how to respond. “Who’s doing it for me?” she thought. Working alone, my mother was doing what it took to create her garden. It would take time and a lot of work. It wasn’t an easy job. Mrs. Bailey, on the other side of the fence, with the same land and many people living in her house “couldn’t” have a garden?

Mrs. Bailey saw my mother’s example of the work necessary to fix the garden.  She could imagine “having” a garden but no stretch of the mind brought her to the realization that if she did the same work she could have the same results. A garden was something that she could “have” only if someone else would do it for her, give it to her.

In contrast my mother had a mess on her hands. She had a lot of work. What she wanted was not what she had but what she could create. She was willing to do the work it took to achieve that goal. And the results were beautiful.

There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those that can’t have a garden and those that can. Those that wait for someone else to give them what they lack and those that are willing to put in the effort needed to create a better future.

The potential of each is exactly the same. It is only their thinking that keeps them apart.

What kind of person are you? What kind of person do you want to be?

On this day, June 1, 2001 a Hamas terrorist, walked into a Tel Aviv dance club at the Dolphinarium and blew himself up murdering 21 young Israelis and injuring 132.

Jenya Dorfman was 15 years old.

The story below is not her story.
Jenya’s story is that of a happy, dancing girl. A regular teenager.

Jenya Dorfman

This is the story of a pure gesture on night of horrors, the story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level.

Faina and Frank

The events of a single night created an unbreakable connection between Faina and Frank. Two people, from worlds apart, they would normally never have met but that night was no normal night. Their story is not that of a romance but it is a story of love. Theirs is a story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level.

It was a Friday night. Frank Eggmann, assistant to the Ambassador of Switzerland posted in Israel was in his room. Suddenly he heard the sound of an enormous explosion. A suicide bomber had blown himself up in the midst of a crowd of teenagers waiting to enter their favorite disco, the Dolfinarium.

Frank ran down the street to the Dolfinarium to see if he could help. He was witness to untold horrors. Youth blown to bits. Frank searched for someone he could help. Frank approached a boy who was lying on the ground but as he drew near he realized that the boy was dead; there was nothing Frank could do for him. A girl lying on the ground caught his eye. She was severely wounded, bleeding from a head injury. Frank knew he lacked the medical skills needed to assist Jenya so he did the only thing he could think of doing. He sat on the ground next to her and held her hand.

Meanwhile, Faina, Jenya’s mother, was at a birthday party. Jenya usually went with her to such events but Faina understood when her daughter said she’d rather go out with her friends that night. At the party Faina ate and talked with her friends. Faina never dreamt that at that very moment her beloved only child was on the ground, holding the hand of the assistant to the Ambassador of Switzerland as she lay dying.

Frank sat with Jenya while she bled. All he could do was be with her. Frank and Jenya were surrounded by ugliness and pain, screaming and blood, life pouring out on cement. The two of them, an island of prayer in a sea of madness.

That night one terrorist directed his life’s blood to killing children, to causing pain to as many people as possible. The terrorist sacrificed his humanity on the alter of hatred. Frank, in contrast, placed all of his humanity in the hand of a fifteen year old girl.

Faina did not have a good time at the party and she didn’t know why. She felt an enormous weight on her heart and she desperately wanted to go home. Someone told Faina that there had been an attack at the disco. At first she wasn’t worried but when Jenya did not answer her cell phone Faina started to become nervous. Friends drove Faina home; she prayed the whole way.

Faina hoped to find Jenya safely at home but the house was empty. A neighbor said that three wild-eyed and shaking teenagers had come looking for Faina, to say that Jenya was hurt and taken to the hospital. The hospital emergency phone lines were swamped so Faina did the only thing she could – she got a friend to take her to the hospital in search of her wounded child. It was probably hope that took Faina to Wolfson hospital where they treat the “mild” to “moderate” cases. Faina fought through a hellish scene of frantic families, friends, ambulances, police cars, sirens and shouting only to be given the terrifying news – Jenya was at Ichilov hospital, where the “serious” cases are taken. When Faina finally found her daughter, Jenya had already slipped into a coma. For 18 long days Jenya retained her fragile hold on life but while Faina was at her side all day, each day Jenya was already gone. Faina never got to talk to her beloved child again. Simply to hold Jenya’s hand and feel her squeezing her back would have meant the world to Faina.

The day after the attack Frank had scanned the papers for Jenya’s picture. He was pleased that he didn’t see her face amongst those of the dead children. Frank searched for her in the hospitals but didn’t find her. Something drove him on and on in his search. Frank went from hospital room to hospital room, visiting with the wounded and their families. Over one hundred teenagers were wounded in the attack and Frank saw most of them. Amongst so many faces and stories it was Jenya that was seared into his mind. Frank wanted very much to find her, to find her family.

Faina had heard that Frank had been at the scene of the attack and that he had done everything in his power to comfort a dying girl. Faina wanted desperately for it to have been Jenya. A mother had spent fifteen years raising her child, taking care of her, enjoying her personality, watching her dance and laugh and when her baby needed her she wasn’t there to protect her. With all her soul Faina yearned for there to have been someone there to make things a little less horrible for her precious child.

The day after the attack, a picture was published of Jenya with Frank next to her, holding her hand as she lay bleeding. Faina heard about the picture and wanted to see it so that she could find out if it was Jenya Frank had been with or not. There was great reluctance to send the picture, the organization that had it was afraid to further traumatize a bereaved mother by showing her such a difficult picture. It was five months before Faina saw the picture, before she discovered that it was Jenya’s hand that Frank held that night.

Jenya and Frank after Dolfinarium attack

Frank had cut-out and kept the photo of him with Jenya. He wanted to find her mother and tell her about her daughter’s last moments.

When they finally met face to face, Frank told Faina everything he could remember about that night. Faina was grateful to hear the details, for her it was like extending Jenya’s life by a few extra moments.

It comforts Faina to know that Frank was with Jenya. A beautiful, dancing, pixie child like Jenya should never have had such violence and hatred directed at her. Thanks to Frank Jenya’s last experience was that of kindness and compassion, not horror. Etched into his heart and mind, Frank cannot forget Jenya and through her, Faina. The slaughter of innocents brought them together, kindness created a bond between them.

Two people from different cultures, with different languages and backgrounds, living on different continents, are connected by an unbreakable bond. No amount of time or distance will change this for it has nothing to do with the amount of contact or communication between them. Theirs is the bond of kindness, of a hand holding a hand in a night of terror. The purity of this gesture on a night of horrors tells the story of humanity and kindness on the deepest and most basic level. This gesture did not stop at Jenya, it was passed on, through her to Faina who became its beneficiary. The strength of this seemingly small gesture is that which is given by what some would call God and what I call Love. A child can be murdered but even a small act of Love lives on.


You can contact Faina via the site dedicated to Jenya Dorfman: http://www.jenyadorfman.net/about-us.php

Israel has her own version of scouts. Their slogan is also “Be prepared”.

Today I went to a celebration of the 90th anniversary of a Haifa based scouts troupe. I, who dbe preparedid not attend the scouts, watched as the old-timers came, as well as their children and grandchildren – all people who belonged to the troupe. They came with crumpled faces, walking sticks and even a wheelchair, proudly wearing the troupe scarf they were given in the entrance.

Each age group came in, looking for their friends. And they found them. Some people they see often, others people they had not seen in years.

The question in the entrance was: “What year did you finish? 1925? 1950? 1960? 1970? 1980? 1990? 2000?” The kids managing the event were troupe leaders that will finish their leadership in the scouts in 2017.

You might ask: “How is it possible to have a 90 year old scout troupe when the country is only 67 years old?”

In Israel it is possible. Because Jews were in Israel before Israel was officially reinstated as the Jewish State (there were Jewish Scouts in Europe too, before the rise of the Nazis made it impossible to continue). Because wherever there are Jews there is culture. Because frameworks to teach and guide children are given high priority.

Where there is a will there is a way.

Leaders Eat Last

Simon Sinek explains what real leadership is, what “Leaders Eat Last” means.

It’s very literal and it is exactly what we seen so often in the IDF and with Israeli civilians, including small children. It’s less common in our politicians but normal, average Israelis recognize this quality and even expect it. Extraordinary actions are, in Israel, often the “right thing to do” and people just do them.

Too few people know understand and know how to recognize real leadership. Simon Sinek does.


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