In 1948, at Notre Dame in Jerusalem, Colonel Shalom Dror and the Hagana (Israel’s pre-state army) paused their advancement, not knowing if reinforcements were on the way. Transpiring events would ensure the reunification of Jerusalem was not “in our hands.”
In the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli Defense Forces captured Ammunition Hill, a supply center for the Jordanian army. In the words of Jordanian officers, the IDF battalion, primarily made up of reservists, “fought as if they were lions possessed.” A day later, Israeli forces successfully liberated the Old City of Jerusalem. A young 22-year-old named Danni Dror, walking down the Via Dolorosa, was hit by sniper fire, tragically dying in his officer’s arms.
Thirty-five years ago, I met Danni’s father, Shalom Dror. Retired, he and his wife, Nehama, spoke about Israel and our responsibility and opportunity to participate in our nation that is still under creation.
I have a picture of Shalom walking in the Old City hand-in-hand with my son Sam, and another picture of my daughter Aly sitting between Nehama and Shalom. Over the years, they became honorary “grandparents” to our children.
I asked Shalom how he and Nehama wake up every day with a smile, care so much, and have such passion when they had lost their son, Danni. Shalom looked me in the eye and recounted the battle for Israel’s independence. I will never forget; he said, “Russell, I ask myself every day, did we stop too soon? Could we have held on for one more day? One more hour? Would we have had the Old City of Jerusalem in our hands in 1948?
“Then we lost our son. We realized my generation was a great generation, yet his was better. We fought for Israel to be here for our Jewish people after 2,000 years. Yet Danni’s generation was greater; they fought and reunified our eternal capital, Jerusalem.
“The only thing I ask is to make sure your generation is better than his, and help the next generation become better than yours. Support future generations and connect them to Israel. Never give up; keep moving forward. That gives me strength.”
“The only thing I ask is to make sure your generation is better than his, and help the next generation become better than yours. Support future generations and connect them to Israel. Never give up; keep moving forward. That gives me strength.”Shalom Dror
Making the next generation of Jews better than the ones who came before
Shalom would have been proud of our son marrying Shelby under a huppah, wrapped in Marci’s father’s tallit. He would have loved that our daughter has voted in five Israeli elections after immigrating to Israel.
HE WAS, and would be proud, of Jewish National Fund-USA investing in bringing students to our Alexander Muss High School in Israel’s semester abroad experience. Every year, more than 1,600 students tackle their academic curriculum as well as learn about 4,000 years of our Jewish history – living, loving and walking the Land of Israel.
He would have been proud to hear about then-high school student Ruby, whom I met six years ago crying in the hallway at Muss. She was texting her father who was at a synagogue board meeting in Boston. The board of directors was voting to exclude Israel as part of the discussion at their congregation. During the Q&A portion, her father would ask her for answers, since he had never been to Israel. The 16-year-old Ruby, who had never been to Israel prior to her semester at Muss, was now standing on our ancestral soil texting her father answers because of her experience.
A year later, Ruby was elected to her congregation’s board of directors and wrote their Israel curriculum, which is still used today. She was later accepted to Yale University. A little over a year ago, I received an email from Ruby asking if I remembered her. Then she told me she dropped out of Yale. She was a straight-A student, she said, yet she had to make a life-changing decision; she decided to make aliyah.
She enlisted in the IDF and became an officer. She wanted to meet with me about her future. Ruby now works for Alexander Muss High School in Israel, recruiting and training our informal education instructors and inspiring teenagers coming to Israel to learn, explore and become our leaders of tomorrow.
SO, ON THE 75th anniversary of the State of Israel, all of us should heed the words of Shalom Dror. His generation was great, the next generation better, and the next generation even better. We have an opportunity and responsibility to make sure we are building for tomorrow.
From meeting students at Muss and the growing number of young people involved with Jewish National Fund-USA across the United States, I assure you that our next generation is already achieving greatness. During this milestone year for Israel, I feel forever grateful for knowing Shalom and Nehama, and pay tribute to the memory of their son, Danni, who, like so many others, made the ultimate sacrifice for our land, the people of Israel, and Jewish people everywhere. ■
Happy Birthday, Israel!
The writer is CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA.