Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Land of Heroes

Yesterday, directly after Shabbat, I heard that Yitzhak Shamir had died that day. Shamir was Israel’s seventh Prime Minister, and the longest serving one after David Ben-Gurion. In my eyes, Shamir was a great Jewish hero, not only for the things he accomplished, but for the man he was. Modest, humble, hard-working, he stayed true to his beliefs no matter the pressure put on him by outsiders. He loved the Land of Israel and the people of Israel,  and put them first, before his own needs and aspirations. One can argue whether his methods were true, whether his values were correct, whether his means justified his ends; but it is beyond doubt that he lived a life of honesty, and dignity, and integrity, characteristics that usually are so lacking in the world of politics.

When I was about 12 years old, just starting Grade 7, I read Exodus by Leon Uris. The book blew me away. I wanted to be part of those fighting for the Land. And though Uris depicted the Lehi and the Stern Gang rather negatively, it was them I wanted to join, not the wusses in the Hagana….
Since living in Israel nicely complemented my other dream –  living in a place where palm trees grew in the middle of the streets – I was blessed by being able to come to Israel only a few years later. Of course, I didn’t join the Lehi or the Stern Gang or the Hagana either for that matter. I had missed that boat by only 30 or so years.

Nonetheless, I have been blessed to live in a Land of heroes.

There are heroes everywhere. Sometimes they are difficult to spot. I learned that a few years after coming to Beer Sheva. I had taken my shoes to be fixed to a particular shoemaker several times. Most of our conversations had centered around rubber soles and leather uppers, but for some reason one day he talked about his kids and how his tiny shop had put them all through University. If that wasn’t heroic enough, he then told me that after he had been part of the battalion that had liberated Beer Sheva in the War of Independence in 1949, he decided to stay here and help build up the new Jewish city. I remember standing there blinking at him. He was an old man then, certainly in his 80s. It had never crossed my mind that he had been one of the heroes who had fought in the Wars and built the Nation. He looked like a shoemaker. I learned a valuable lesson there.

Heroes dress like regular people.

Since then, I’ve found heroes everyone. There are the obvious heroes of the boys and girls who serve in the army, or the doctors and nurses who fly around the world saving lives in countries like Haiti, and Turkey, and India after natural disasters have hit. Then there are the men and women who leave their jobs and their homes, and their families every year and do reserve duty in the army. Then there was the man who stood outside his shop during an alarm of an incoming missile ushering people in to his store to make sure they had somewhere safe to be during the attack. Or the woman who gave out drinks to the people huddled in the shelter during an attack. And the teens who go to the hospital to visit injured soldiers, or sick kids. There are the men and women who travel the width and breadth of the country to give ‘treats’ to the soldiers, the people who host senior citizens or students or tourists who are alone in Israel and have nowhere to go for the holidays. There are the multitudes of volunteers – of all ages – in the hospitals, the army, the schools, pensioner homes who give of their time and energy to help those unable to help themselves.
(Israel has one of the largest number of volunteers per capita in the world).

These are my heroes; men and women who live doing what is right, not only what is easy.

In 1949, the State of Israel issued the medal “Hero of Israel”. 12 were awarded that year, according to the number of tribes.
They were only awarded that one time in 1949, and in 1970 the Medal of Valor was issued instead.
There were too many heroes to be able to continue issuing the Hero of Israel.

What a blessing to live in a Land of heroes.

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