My Word: Look for the helpers

They might not be superheroes, and they might not be able to stop the world constantly getting back into trouble, but look around and you’ll see helpers, heroes and human angels.

Burgas MDA (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Burgas MDA (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In my favorite quote from my favorite superhero movie Mr. Incredible complains: “No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again.”
2012 was that kind of year. The world just kept getting into trouble.
Although The Jerusalem Post enters 2013 celebrating its 80th anniversary, a journalist friend of mine wryly commented that the least credible part of the Superman series is that the Daily Planet newspaper is thriving and still provides Clark Kent a steady job. As for Batman, well, the premiere of the latest movie has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. On July 20, James Holmes opened fire on the packed screening of The Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Colorado, theater, killing 12 people and wounding dozens.
Now, as the world enters 2013, America is grieving the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that brought Newtown, Connecticut, to global attention. What decent human being didn’t feel a stab of pain when they learned of the 20 children and six adults whose lives were brutally cut down on December 14? Why don’t you always name the victims, a reader castigated me and the Post in general following another atrocity – the terror attack on Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in March. Why do you always name the perpetrators but not those who died? She has a point. In the case of the victims of the attack on the French Jewish school, there are four names that should never be forgotten: Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two sons Arye, six, and Gabriel, three, and eight-year-old Myriam Monsonego, daughter of the school principal. In many other cases this year, the list of dead has simply been too long to repeat each time.
And that is part of the tragedy, that young people disappear into a list.
While most Israelis became familiar with the beautiful smiling face of six-year-old Noah Pozner, the youngest and only Jewish victim in the Sandy Hook school attack, they are less aware of the identities and stories of those who died with him.
Facebook was filled with photos and names and requests to light a virtual candle in memory of all the victims. It was one of those occasions where the “Like” option seemed particularly inappropriate.
As the links full of sadness and despair scrolled down my computer screen in a devastating parade, my friend Jen Feldman, a Reconstructionist rabbi in North Carolina, shared a welcome piece of wisdom.
It was sensible advice from Fred Rogers, known in his lifetime for his way of helping families with young children deal with difficult moments.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” Rogers is quoted as saying.
Given that I am a news addict who has turned a sometimes bad habit into a profession, I am often – way too often – exposed to bad news without always having the option of simply switching off.
Hence Rogers’s suggestion provided a welcome coping mechanism. Amid the blame throwing that surrounded the Newtown massacre, when I couldn’t switch off the news I could at least seek the helpers, a positive focus.
Similarly, while nothing will wipe away the memory of the funerals of the victims of the Toulouse atrocity, the visit last month to Jerusalem by a delegation of French Muslim imams who stopped at the cemetery to pray next to the graves gives hope.
Their courage – both moral and otherwise – stands out.
Bravery of a different type was shown this year by 18-year-old American Jewish gymnast Aly Raisman at the London Olympics.
She won a gold medal for her floor routine set to the tune of Hava Nagila and dedicated it to the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes killed in the Munich Massacre. While the International Olympic Committee lacked the moral fiber to declare a minute’s silence to commemorate sportsmen killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Games in 1972, Raisman showed the world she is proud of her religion and people.
And the Jewish people and Israel had much to be proud of in the past civil year.
Despite the infighting between ultra- Orthodox zealots and Orthodox and secular Jews in certain neighborhoods in Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem, which had friends in America and England asking me if Israel was in danger of “Iranization,” as I went through my day I met more good people than bad and, yes, I saw helpers.
When Hurricane Sandy wreaked devastation in October, Israelis sent aid and teams of enthusiastic young people went to participate in the clean-up efforts. And the IDF Home Front Command sent an 18-member rescue team to the capital of Ghana in November following the collapse of a multistory shopping center.
In last month’s eight-day mini-war, Operation Pillar of Defense, there were many unsung heroes and helpers in Israel – including those manning the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system which saved an inestimable number of lives, those helping trauma victims, and of course the huge number of reserve forces.
At a time when it seemed like the whole world was weirdly dancing Gangnam Style, one of my favorite versions starred the worst dancers: a bunch of IDF reservists wearing flak jackets trying to go through the motions as they waited for a possible ground campaign in Gaza.
Among the strongest images of the war was the picture of a bloodied and traumatized baby being held by a rescue worker, moments after her mother had been killed.
The man holding the tiny child is a helper if ever there was one. In the warped Palestinian war for sympathy, the picture, with the Hebrew logo of the Kiryat Malachi Municipality on the worker’s vest still evident, later turned up in the social media purporting to show a victim of Israeli aggression in Gaza, not the child of Chabadniks who will never know that no matter how hard a helper tries, nothing feels the same as a mother’s hug.
But for me the ultimate helpers this year were members of the team that flew to Burgas in July following the suicide bombing at the Bulgarian airport that killed five Israelis (and a local tour bus driver).
Within hours, Israel had organized a rescue mission with a medical team to treat the wounded and volunteers carrying out the ultimate altruistic mitzva of collecting and identifying body parts so that the dead could be speedily buried back home.
Magen David Adom director Eli Bin said that when the MDA and IDF rescue teams entered the Burgas Airport terminal, they were greeted by “thunderous applause.” It might not have been an Entebbe-style rescue mission but, as a friend put it, “Imagine how they felt. All of a sudden, amid the trauma and chaos, Israeli army officers and doctors came and showed they cared.”
“It’s not always pleasant to be Israeli, but this is a country that knows, within 24 hours, how to bring back all of her wounded and injured from every place in the world. That makes it a little easier,” Brig.- Gen. Dr. Itzik Kreiss told a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport after accompanying the return of the first flight of victims.
They might not be superheroes, and they might not be able to stop the world constantly getting back into trouble, but look around and you’ll see helpers, heroes and human angels. And unlike so many perpetrators of so much evil, they don’t seek immortal fame.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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