I once lived in what shall remain an unnamed city in the Western world, in which one of the most prominent organizations was called: Parents of Murdered Children. In this place, the kidnapping and molestation and murder of children was endemic, so much so that I wouldn’t let my children go out of the house alone. Ever.
In this city, a woman’s car once broke down on the highway. Within ten minutes, a car picked her up, and she was subsequently raped and murdered. And I wondered: What kind of people live in this place that within a ten minute period a rapist-murderer would be passing by?
And now I live in a place where all around me, every minute of the day, in every part of this land, there is a hidden saint and hero.
I want to start with the latest story, the story of Noam in Otniel. Otniel is a yeshiva in which boys add two years to their regular army service so that they can continue their religious studies. My son went there. And his friends. And the son of one of my neighbors, a remarkable young man, the kind that regularly visits a family because they lost one of their sons in the army. And now he visits them, and comforts them, every week. People he didn’t know.
Last weekend in Otniel, the boys went home for Shabbat, and the yeshiva was open to visitors. Friday night. The white tablecloths. A hundred boys wearing knitted skullcaps just returned from Sabbath prayers. They formed a circle and danced, waiting for the first course of the Sabbath meal to be served. In the kitchen, Gabriel,17, Tvika, 18, Yehuda 20, and Noam 23, were getting the first course on to the serving plates.
Outside, two terrorists, members of the Islamic Jihad organization, cut the useless wire fence around the yeshiva, and entered the kitchen wearing IDF army uniforms and toting M 16’s, 12 rounds of ammunition, and ten hand grenades. They started shooting immediately. Under fire, Noam Apfter ran towards the door separating the kitchen from the dining room where a hundred unsuspecting young boys were welcoming the Sabbath. Wounded, with his last strength, he locked both locks and threw the key away. He locked himself in with the terrorists, and locked them out from harming his fellow students.
Noam Apfter paid for this act of heroism with his life. He, and the other three boys were murdered by the terrorists.
Now, I don’t know if I can explain this to you, those of you who have never been in a terrorist attack. Faced with such harm, every single fibre of your being screams to open the door and escape. To think of others in such a situation is remarkable. To deliberately lock yourself in with terrorists to save others, is beyond my capacity to understand. It takes a large soul, and more courage than is given to any human being.
These are the people I live amongst:
Shlomo Harel: who pushed a suicide bomber to the ground when he tried to explode himself in a Jerusalem coffee shop, pinning his arms to the floor.
Mikhail Sarkisov, 31, a new immigrant from Turkmenistan, living in a trailer with no bathroom or refrigerator, who as a guard on Tel Aviv’s beachfront Cafe Tayelet, armed with a fake pistol, threw himself bodily on a suicide bomber to prevent him from detonating, saving dozens of lives.
Rami Mahmoud Mahameed, 17, a young Arab Israeli, who asked a suicide bomber waiting at a bus stop for his cell phone, and calmly called the police, who prevented the bomber from boarding a bus, but not from exploding. Rami was badly injured.
Eli Federman, who, guarding a Tel Aviv disco, faced the speeding car of a suicide bomber heading straight for him, and the club, and coolly fired, blowing up the car before it could enter.
Bus driver Baruch Neuman, who got off the bus to check a passenger who had fallen trying to board the bus from the back, only to find he was wired. He and another passenger held the bomber’s hands down until the rest of the bus passengers could flee to safety.
Others who paid for their heroism with their lives include Yossef Twitto, head of the response team in Itamar, who ran to save a family whose home had been entered by terrorists, terrorists who killed three sisters and brothers, wounded another two, before killing Yossef Twitto.
Mordechai Tomer, 19, who stopped a car from going into downtown Jerusalem and was blown up.
Tamir Matan, who helped stop a suicide bomber in a gas station from entering a busy cafeteria. He and two young soldiers who helped him, were blown up.
This is the face of Israel. These are the people I live amongst. I live among them humbly, knowing that in any place, or time, in a random ten minute period, there are heroes cruising around, ready to give their precious lives for mine.
This is our human landscape, what the land of Israel, its values, its education, its mothers and fathers, have produced. This land, and its people.
God bless them and keep them.