A couple of weeks ago, I drove my daughter to her apartment on Yoni Netanyahu Street in Givat Shmuel. Gazing at the street sign hearkened me back to July 4, 1976, when we heard the miraculous news of the daring Operation Entebbe in which over 100 hostages were rescued. Sadly, Yoni Netanyahu, who led the elite commando unit, was killed during the mission.
Netanyahu was destined for greatness, as he was named Yonatan in honor of his father’s dear friend Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, who was the commander of Great Britain’s Jewish Legion during World War I, which was the precursor to Israel’s modern-day army, the IDF. Upon retirement from the armed forces, Patterson continued his support of Zionism and toiled to save European Jewry during World War II.
Yoni Netanyahu was a renaissance man: a sensitive thinker, philosopher, leader, and decorated soldier. After his death, many of Yoni’s personal letters penned over a 13-year period were published in a book that reveals his penetrating thoughts and convictions, his creative and exceptionally analytical mind, and his dedication to his country and his soldiers. It’s no wonder that streets in half a dozen cities across the country are named in honor of this modern-day hero.
Staring at the Yoni Netanyahu street sign reminded me that, as an 11-year-old, I wanted to be in Ben Gurion Airport among the throngs of Jews to welcome home the soldiers and the rescued Jews. These emotions reminded me of other times when I experienced similar reactions – and I know that many others also feel far away and yearn to return to Israel during times of crisis.
I recall sitting in the parking lot outside my father’s synagogue on Yom Kippur 1973, comforting a man who was nervously listening to the radio, trying to find out the whereabouts of his son who was serving in the IDF on the day when the war broke out.
During the second intifada, which started in 2000, I felt distraught not being in Israel. I appreciate that my emotions were somewhat silly, as my presence in Israel would neither help stop a suicide bomber nor defend rocket fire. And yet, being separated from my brethren – exacerbated by the tragic 9-11 events – served as a visceral reminder that it was time to make aliyah.
I am writing this article in the United States, where I am busy running Israel homebuying presentations, while rockets are raining down on our precious homeland. Hearing news of Jews running for their lives, I am again experiencing pangs to return home.
How fortunate is the Jewish nation that kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh – all of Israel are responsible for each other. Following Yoni’s lead, may we all forge our own unique path of courage and heroism in fulfilling our sacred communal obligation towards Am Yisrael.