In the classic 1984 film The Karate Kid there is a brilliant and breathtaking
scene that ties the movie together – and to this day, sends chills down my
It occurs after Daniel, an unbearably bullied new kid, spends
weeks doing grunt work for a mysterious maintenance man named Mr. Miyagi
(who also happens to be a martial arts master, and wise, Yoda-esque figure),
while Miyagi is supposed to be training him for the most important fight of his
Daniel, a karate neophyte, expresses exasperated disgust to his
purported “sensei” that he has wasted weeks of his time to train properly for
the much-anticipated bout against a gang of sadistic teenage karate experts who
have made his life miserable. Indeed, instead of “training,” Daniel polishes
Miyagi’s cars, maintains his property and is generally exploited for Miyagi’s
After Miyagi listens to Daniel’s disillusioned and angry
diatribe, he promptly demands that Daniel illustrate the physical motions his
body and mind have indelibly retained by performing each individual task
thousands of times, over and over again. (“Wax on, right hand” – “wax
off, left hand”; “paint the fence”; “sand the floor,” etc.)
To the shock of
Daniel, and millions of captivated viewers, it becomes evident that all of the
painful and seemingly meaningless movements he was forced to repeat are far more
than what they appear.
Indeed, the elderly Miyagi, a normally calm, Zen
presence, suddenly screams at the top of his lungs while throwing a barrage of
fast, intense blows at Daniel, which Daniel cleanly deflects utilizing the exact
same motions he memorized by laboring for Miyagi.
To Daniel’s utter
astonishment, he realizes that all the backbreaking drudgery his sensei put him
through has led to a breakthrough: a mastery of karate.
It’s beautiful to
behold this epiphany, no matter how many times I’ve seen it, for many
The most important reason, I believe, is that it illustrates
that in life, all the pain, disappointments, depression, anger and frustration
that can make existence feel like an endurance test can also collectively and
miraculously prepare us for something very special – even transcendental – when
we least expect it. When we are about to give up.
LET’S FACE it:
Life’s circuitous, often demoralizing cruel nature is
very much an endurance
test. To be sure, I write these words on the 10th anniversary of the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks that shook me, a New York City native, to my core,
and left millions of other people profoundly haunted by the unspeakable evil it
has come to symbolize.
Yet 9/11, while utterly senseless, is one of
thousands of chapters in the history of man that will continue to unfold – where
good, innocent people have been, and will be, victimized by the cruelest and
most depraved of our numbers – leaving us attempting to carry on, any way we
The question then becomes: What do we do with all the agonizing and
seemingly useless lessons and experiences we accumulate by simply being alive?
How do we utilize all the pain and disillusionment to grow and create, instead
While there is no single answer for all of us, much like Daniel, who
unwittingly becomes a student of life in the most unlikely of ways through
Miyagi, we too are being trained in ways we could not begin to fathom. In ways
that defy logic, and frequently, humanity.
I bring all this up because,
like millions of others, I have gone through protracted dark periods when I felt
like giving up. Times when I genuinely believed that life was little more than a
meaningless burden meant to break my spirit in the most creative ways
Now, compared to atrocities like 9/11 and the Holocaust, my
dark times would be like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow to those
far less fortunate – but to me it was dark, just the same. And I pitied
THEN, ONE day when I least expected it, I had my “Miyagi Moment.”
By this, I mean a moment when I finally understood that all the
psychic pain and meaningless motions which I believed were sending me in
endless, unconstructive circles, had actually prepared me for the fight of my
In my case, this is the fight for Israel, and by extension, for my
family, who was slaughtered during the Holocaust for being Jewish.
My Miyagi Moment came to me
with help from my beloved grandmother Carola, who lived through the
all-encompassing hell known as the Shoah, and came out of it an unmatched
creator of love and hope.
The ultimate sensei, my grandmother inspired me
in ways I never knew possible, and convinced me that if she could turn her pain
into something special, then as her grandson, maybe I could, too.
COURSE, the vast majority of us will never be so lucky as to have a Miyagi or
Carola to help guide us and channel our many painful experiences into something
that transcends the means to the end.
However, what Miyagi and Carola teach us
is that if we convert each lesson – ranging from the horrific to the benign (and
everything in between) – into constructive fuel, the result can be just as
breathtaking as Daniel’s.
Like Daniel, I am now the ultimate new kid on
the block in a geopolitical conflict where I’m surrounded by bullies who don’t
just want to harm and humiliate me, but very much want me dead.
difference now is that since I made aliya in July 2010, I have taken all the
pain, disappointment and anger that once debilitated me and harnessed it to
drive me to heights I have never known.
Just like Carola taught
Ultimately, we’re all in training, in one way or another, for the
most important fight of our lives.
The secret, I believe, is to determine what
exactly that fight is, and then to recycle all the ugly pain, disappointment and
seeming futility we experience in this life to create something meaningful. Even
If you do this, your Miyagi Moment will likely come,