by Richard Friedman
February 13, 2005 -- "To my people: We have gone through four tough years and overcome. Now is the time to bring about security, peace and quiet. This is the only way to reach a situation where there are two states, living in peace alongside each other."
- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon speaking after his meeting in Egypt Tuesday with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
As I read Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's words on Tuesday, I thought of the man I spent the day with on Monday - and his son.
I was in New York Monday attending a meeting of the Koby Mandell Foundation board and had the chance to spend time with Rabbi Seth Mandell.
The story of the Mandells, who live in Israel, is well known - both in Israel and America. In May 2001, the Mandells' 13-year-old son, Koby, and a 14-year-old friend, Yosef Ishran, skipped school to go hiking. They were kidnapped by Arab terrorists, taken to a cave and stoned to death.
Seth and his wife, Sherri, in response to the murder of their son, sought to cope with their pain through positive action and started a foundation - the Koby Mandell Foundation. Both Mandells have been to Birmingham on behalf of their foundation and, thanks to funding from the Birmingham Jewish Federation and other sources, the Koby Mandell Foundation today provides cutting-edge programs for people who've lost loved ones to terror.
We talked at the Monday board meeting about the "dawning of peace" - and if peace comes about whether the men, women and children who lost their lives to the terror, and their families, would rightfully be remembered as heroes: citizen soldiers of Israel who refused to yield to some of the most barbaric terror mankind has ever witnessed.
It's hard to imagine a 13-year-old boy in a baseball cap, as Koby is often pictured (see www.kobymandell.org), as a defender of Israel; yet, as it has been said, the real soldiers of Israel these past four years have been the youngsters and others who continued to ride the buses, go to the malls and eat at the pizzerias, and the moms and dads who each morning said goodbye to their kids as they left the house, not knowing for sure if they would ever see them again.
And they are not only heroes to Israel, they ought to be admired and remembered by the entire free world for bravely continuing their day-to-day lives despite the suicide bombings and other attacks, driven by the same jihadist mentality that came to our shores on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hopefully, history will show that this new day in the Middle East - indeed if it truly dawns - was not solely brought about by the demise of Yassir Arafat, the election of Mahmoud Abbas, President Bush's marginalization of Arafat and firm stance against terror, or Israel's skilled and aggressive military response and its brave soldiers. All were crucial factors, of course.
However, let us also remember that it was the resolve of people such as the Mandells and so many others, who helped turn back this hideous enemy. People like the Almog family of Haifa, who lost five family members in a suicide bombing, and who have come to be know to many in Birmingham because they have brought a son, Oran, who survived, to UAB twice for emergency eye treatment.
These are the true heroes of Israel - they and the other families who lived through the murder these past four years of more than 1,000 Israelis and the maiming of more than 6,000, and who never gave up and never cowered.
It is they, who by refusing to yield sent their adversaries and the world the following message: Israel is here to stay.
Richard Friedman is executive director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation. In the past four years, he's visited Israel five times to learn more about the ongoing terror and Israel's response and security needs. He can be reached at email@example.com.