By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Much of what I write in these columns reflects what I have learned from people and my experiences over the years, whether in congregational life as a rabbi, or in my engagement with the the wider community on a variety of levels. But this month I learned a lot about life, people, and Jews from a historical event.
The 4th of July 2016 was not only American Independence Day. It was the 40th Anniversary of the incredible and miraculously successful rescue at Entebbe. Arab terrorists and their German sympathisers had hijacked an Air France passenger plane and rerouted it to Entebbe, Uganda, where they released the non-Jewish passengers, but kept over 100 Israelis and other Jews hostage, demanding $5 million in ransom and the release of dozens of imprisoned terrorists. The infamous President of Uganda, Idi Amin, gave the captors’ free reign and they threatened to start killing the hostages if their demands were not met.
The United Nations and the rest of the world were either unable or unwilling to act. And then, at the eleventh hour, in a brilliant, brazen, lightning raid Israel sent in a crack team of Special Forces commandos in transport planes. They eliminated the terorists, freed the hostages, and flew them all back to Israel safely. The raid at Entebbe was arguably the most daring and dramatic hostage rescue in history.
In honour of this milestone anniversary, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu embarked on a four nation visit to Africa, including Entebbe Airport, where his brother Yoni was the only IDF member to have died in the operation. How symbolic, how powerful, that Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Africa on the very same day and at the very same place where his brother Yoni gave his life for his people exactly 40 years earlier!
And in honour of this special anniversary, our shul arranged two concerts with international stars and we produced a short professional video telling the story entitled ‘Miracle at Entebbe’. And as I write these lines, our little video for our local concert has attracted over a quarter million viewers and the numbers continue to climb. I am completely overwhelmed by the amazing response from around the globe.
In my reasearch for the film I learned that even secular leaders in Israel – Yitzchak Rabin was then Prime Minister – were guided by traditional Jewish values. From the Torah, Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour. (Leviticus 19, 16). And from the Talmud, All of Israel are responsible for one another.
One can only imagine how sombre and tormented must have been those deliberations in Rabin’s Cabinet; how they must have debated and agonised over whether to send in the troops or not. The risk of failure was great. The slightest hitch could have resulted in the deaths of all the hostages. The fallout from international condemnation would be enormous. And yet, there were over 100 fellow Jews at the mercy of cold-blooded murderers and the world was doing nothing to save them. How could Israel stand by helplessly? In the end, it wasn’t only a military decision; It was a moral decision.
Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin is said to have remarked to his daughter Dalya at the time, “Tomorrow, either I will be a king; or they will hang me in the town square!” Thank G-d for His miracles. Rabin became king!
We all know of the courage of our dedicated defenders in the IDF. We always knew that. But now I learned that even Israel’s ‘secular’ leaders are “believers and sons of believers” and are themselves guided and influenced by their own innate Jewish values. And I learned that when we do what we have to do then Hashem certainly responds.
I remember watching an interview with one of those heroic Israeli pilots. He told how, for some unknown reason, he just felt an inner voice telling him to stop his plane some metres before he was meant to on the Entebbe runway. Afterwards, he discovered a huge crater in the middle of the runway just past the point where he stopped “prematurely”. His conclusion? “Somebody up there was working overtime!” I remember at the time how the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke publicly in the most glowing terms in praise of Hashem’s great miracles that helped the soldiers succeed in this most complicated and dangerous rescue operation.
So I learned yet again that Israel is not only an IT powerhouse and a titan of technology. I learned that Israel is a moral powerhouse. The Miracle at Entebbe demonstrated that besides the power and courage of our valiant soldiers of the IDF, besides Jewish brains and brazenness (seichel and chutzpah), we can be proud of our values, our morals, and our convictions of conscience.
I imagine every Jew over 50 remembers exactly where he was when the news broke that morning of Sunday July 4th 1976. I was in Chassidim Shul, on Harrow Road, Yeoville at the morning Minyan. Rabbi Yisroel Hazdan, a respected Rav and senior Shochet (father of Rabbi Dovid Hazdan) had just heard the 8 o’clock morning news in his car and burst into shul a few minutes after 8 shouting hysterically in Yiddish, M’hot zei geratevet! They saved them! They rescued them! Amidst the tumult and excitement at hearing the fantastic news it actually took a while for the minyan to reconstitute.
And the next day when I went to work at the old Chabad House in Harley Street, Yeoville, I bumped into the contractor who was renovating the building for us, a Portuguese gentleman named Joe Costa. Joe looked at me and I looked at him and he said simply, “You Jews are something else!”