(April 7, 2022 / Jewish Journal) Everyone seemed to be talking last week about the “Slap Heard ‘Round the World”.
That’s understandable. It’s not every day that you witness a physical assault unfold on live television involving public figures that, in some ways, you feel you know because you’ve seen them so many times on TV and in film. It happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that many of us thought it was a “bit” of some sort. It wasn’t.
Such a moment can and should inspire conversations about what it means to stand up for others when they are insulted or abused, whatever the context or the intent. It might lead us to reflect on the fraying of societal norms, the coarseness of today’s discourse, and, more broadly, the disturbing “ambient rage” that manifests as troubling violent outbursts on planes, in retail outlets, and in other public places.
It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we pay attention to and what, as a result, we ignore.
With all the talk about that dramatic moment at the Oscars, much of the world ignored a more important story, one about true courage and what it really means to come to someone’s defense.
Around the same time as the Oscars, a Palestinian gunman murdered five people in Bnei Brak. Two of them—Victor Sorokopot and Dimitri Mitrik—were Ukrainian foreign residents who came to Israel to work in construction. Yaakov Shalem, out running errands in preparation for Passover, was gunned down in his car. Avishai Yechezkel, a 29-year-old teacher, was out with his son for an evening walk. He died shielding 2-year-old Ariel from the gunman.
The final victim was First Sgt. Amir Khoury, a Christian Arab Israeli police officer who rushed to the scene. He and his partner exchanged gunfire with the terrorist. Khoury and the gunman were both killed in the exchange.
Khoury’s fiancé, Shani Yashar, said: “I told him to be careful. He said he would defend everyone, even if it cost him his life.”
Amir Khoury sacrificed his life in an effort to defend those whose lives he had sworn to protect. Avishai Yechezkel died defending his son, Ariel.
This is courage. This is heroism. This is something especially worthy of our attention.
This is also a story about our shared humanity. Khoury was Christian. His sacrifice has touched the hearts of Israelis from every segment of Israeli society. The fact that thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews, including rabbis, journeyed to Nof HaGalil to pay their respects says volumes about the way Khoury’s act of courage has stirred the soul of a nation.
Here is how Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Barlev put it: “In a small country like ours, personal pain quickly becomes one shared by many, by all the citizens of Israel. We will not forget Amir. May his memory be a blessing.”
His fiancé said at his gravesite: “Rest in peace, my hero of Israel. Hero of the whole people of Israel,” she cried. “All of Israel gives you its thanks. I don’t want them to thank you. But you deserve it.”
Will Smith and Chris Rock are the names on everyone’s lips at the moment. Their shocking altercation at the Oscars will ensure that they stay in the headlines.
But there are other names that merit to be on everyone’s lips, such as Amir Khoury and Avishai Yechezkel. Their stories of heroism are the ones we dare not forget, and should be telling and retelling at our seder tables this year.
May their memories, and those of everyday heroes who risk their lives for others, be for a blessing.
Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback is the senior rabbi of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles.
This article was first published by the Jewish Journal.
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