Nadav Ben-Yehuda, 24, the mountain climber from Rehovot who in May performed a
daring rescue operation near the peak of Mount Everest, on Tuesday received the
president’s special citation for humanity. With little concern for his own
safety, Ben-Yehuda carried Turkish climber Aydin Irmak, 46, to a lower elevation
after finding him in a state of collapse.
The heroic deed cost Ben-Yehuda
his dream of being the youngest Israeli to conquer the world’s highest mountain,
but in his view it was dwarfed by the urgency of saving a life – of someone who
happened to be his friend, notwithstanding Turkey’s hostility to
Ben-Yehuda carried Irmak strapped to his back for eight hours
before they came across a group of climbers who helped them to reach safety. The
Israeli was only 300 meters from the top when he discovered Irmak, who had lost
Ben-Yehuda unhesitatingly bent down to wake him up,
knowing instinctively that otherwise Irmak would die.
Both men suffered
severe frostbite, and doctors are still trying to save two of Ben- Yehuda’s
fingers. He came to the ceremony wearing a glove on his right hand, which he
stretched out to shake that of President Shimon Peres. Sensitive to the pain he
might cause him, Peres took his left hand instead. He told the climber: “You
missed out on the geographic peak, but you reached the peak of humanity – where
you stand tall, strong and courageous.”
The presentation at the
President’s Residence was made during the awards ceremony of the President’s
Prize for Volunteerism, held in conjunction with the National Council for
Volunteering, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
chairwoman Esther Herlitz, 90, was present, as was current chairman Yoram Sagi
Zacks. Also present was Hebrew University president Menahem Ben-Sasson, who
chaired the selection panel and told the honorees they were examples others
Volunteerism did not start with the creation of the State,
said Peres, but long before, with the departure of the Turks.
population of the state-in-the-making had no experience, no money. The only
person who understood anything about finance, Peres continued, was Yitzhak Ben-
Zvi, who eventually became Israel’s second president – “but he dealt in ancient
Listing all the natural resources that Israel did not have, Peres
said that there was only one, most important resource, the human resource,
adding that the country is “a nation of volunteers.”
The 12 award
• Egyptian-born Dr. Ada Aharoni, for promoting peace
initiatives between Jews and Arabs. She has initiated many projects, among them
the Peace Train for Children and a storytelling festival about peace.
Save a Child’s Heart, the Israel-based international humanitarian project, whose
mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from
developing countries with heart disease, and to create centers of competence
there. SACH has sent 60 medical teams abroad, and in Israel has operated on
3,000 children from 42 countries.
• Lt.-Col. Yuval Wagner, a former
combat pilot who became a paraplegic after his helicopter crashed. He fought to
remain in the air force, where he began working towards the absorption of the
disabled into mainstream society. In 1999, with the encouragement of
thenpresident Ezer Weizman, he founded Access Israel; Reuma Weizman, 87,
attended the ceremony.
• Shatal 121 Air Force Technical Intelligence
Services, whose crew, including top ranking officers, have been volunteering at
Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tiva for the past 11
• Noaf Zemiro, born in Kalanswa in 1972, who has struggled with
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis all his life. After a difficult childhood and
years of frustration, living in a wheelchair, he decided to initiate activities
on behalf of the disabled including fun days and workshops.
• Marcel Lavi
Shacham, a native of Dimona, for her manifold activities in improving the
quality of life in the Negev, particularly in the areas of education and soldier
• Yeladim – Fair Chance for Children, which ensures the
well-being of over 10,000 children under the age of 18, who live in 90
residential group homes around the country.
• Sheikh Ali Sallah
Nasreldin, who worked for 47 years for Mekorot, the national water carrier, and
ceaselessly promoted coexistence between the company’s Jewish, Druse, Muslim and
Christian employees. He also lectured Western Galilee students on the country’s
water problems, uniting pupils of different ethnic backgrounds in finding
• Rachel Nafshi, for her work with battered wives and
children. A teacher who volunteered in various Haifa organizations, in 2002 she
founded an organization with the mission of reducing family violence, and works
to integrate mothers of these families into the workforce.
Beyahad, an organization of some 1,500 volunteers who help around 500 Ethiopian
academics gain the qualifications to integrate into all areas of the workforce
and improve the quality of their lives.
• Tapuach, a nonprofit
organization established in 2000 to reduce the social gap and create equal
opportunities for all, through promotion of scientific and technological studies
for populations in peripheral areas.
• Ben Havardi, 16 from Kiryat
Bialik, who has been a volunteer since age 9, helping other children and needy
His motto: “The love you receive is equivalent to the
love you give.”
There was much entertainment at the event, but what most
impacted the hundreds of attendees was a group of wheelchair dancers who perform
under the title Hagal b’Maagal – The Wave in the Circle. Because they cannot use
their legs, they wave their arms and torsos. The audience clapped
enthusiastically to the music and gave them a roaring cheer of approval before
they left the stage.