We are currently celebrating the holiday of Chanukah, when we commemorate the victory of the small group of Maccabees over King Antiochus and his vast Greek army.
The Chanukah story may have happened more than 2000 years ago, but I just spent 10 incredible days with an inspirational group of modern-day Maccabees.
Our community just hosted a delegation of seven severely wounded IDF soldiers. As has been the case every year since we launched Belev Echad back in 2009, I am moved beyond words by the incredible spirit of faith and resilience exemplified by each and every one of these modern-day heroes. These young boys took bullets and shrapnel for the rest of us. Because of them, we have our homeland, Israel. I well understand what the Lubavitcher Rebbe meant when he identified our soldiers as tzaddikim, truly righteous, holy individuals.
One of the soldiers, Gil, told us his story. He was serving in the Special Forces when his unit was ambushed by Hamas terrorists this past summer. He was shot in the hand. He saw the terrorists approaching and it appeared they intended to kidnap him. He tried to draw his rifle, but was unable to because his hand had been shot. He had to make a split-second decision. He reached for his grenade and pulled the pin, making peace with the fact that he would kill himself together with the Hamas terrorists, and not allow himself to be kidnapped. At the last minute, his fellow soldiers in the unit were able to pull him to safety and put the pin back in the grenade, saving his life. Hearing this story from Gil, a modern-day Maccabee, was incredibly moving.
Over the past 10 days we took our Maccabees out to give them the real New York experience. Museums, tours, sightseeing, sports games, fine dining… we did it all!
But these guys are not like ordinary tourists. They do everything with gusto and a real love for life. On Sunday we went to the Metlife Stadium for a Giants football game, where they were treated to box seats. It was a great game—the Giants versus the Redskins—and the Giants won.
In the middle of the game, the crowd was roaring, cheering and waving their flags, and our soldiers wanted to participate. No problem! Ron took off his prosthetic leg and started waving it in the crowd! This was a moment which truly demonstrated the spirit of the IDF. Yes, Ron is in pain all the time. Yes, he’s depressed about losing his leg. But that doesn’t mean he can’t also be happy. His spirit triumphs again and again.
The others followed suit, and were soon leading the cheers to the delight of the fans around them.
That’s the sort of character and spirit these young men consistently display. Rather than giving up on life or feeling sorry for themselves, they are determined to live life to the fullest and raise the spirits of those around them.
Here in this community, in our own small but not insignificant way, we are privileged to be able to help these young men continue to smile through their injuries, spreading hope, strength and positivity wherever they go. Not out of pity, G-d forbid, but out of profound appreciation for these young men and the sacrifices they have made on our behalf. It is a gift to them, but a much bigger gift to us. What an honor and privilege to spend time with these modern-day Maccabees.