Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Eizeh'Hu Gibor: A True Hero

Living here is tough. I won't mince words. Those of you who know me know that I probably couldn't mince words if I tried. Garlic, yes. Words, no.

There are days that are very, very hard. I think that as time goes on it must get easier as we adapt to daily living. But living here in general is just harder. There are still days that I cry. I admit it. There are days that I cry a lot. Over my family, my house, my cars, my comforts. Stop me now, this is about to turn into a country song.

With all that, it's hard to keep your eyes on the prize when you live here. But if you look for them, the reasons to be here (no matter how subtle) are there. And then once every couple of days you get one that hits you full on. And it's beautiful.

This week, A and BAW attended an after school program/assembly at the boys school for grades 4-6 titled "Eizehu Gibor-Who is a hero?" As an American parent (even one who knows a little hebrew) things tend to get lost in translation. For example, the boys have been coming home with different "hero" type projects, but never was it clear to us that this was a school wide program, culminating in this event. 

This program was at 6:15pm (huh??), so although mothers were invited, I sent BAW and A for some "Abba-A Time, Hey". I can only give over the evening in third person as I wasn't there, but I'll have BAW read this post before I post it, to make sure that I get it right.

They came home beaming: both of them full of things to tell me. This fact in and of itself is noteworthy. When a 6th grade boy comes home from a school program excited, that's 2 points right there.

The night started with a gathering (over 200 people) of boys and their parents, and the principal welcomed everyone with a speech defining what a "Jewish Hero" is,  ie: what it means to be a "gibur" and how we define real gevurah. 

Then, everyone was sent off with a page of mekoros all about "Eizeh hu Gibor" to learn b'chavrusa, which BOTH husband and boy said were fantastic. 

Then came the highlight of the evening, 27 year old S'derot resident Avichai Seli. A true Gibor in his own right.

First, an explanation: There is an annual international Tanach Contest held in Jerusalem each year called the "Chidon HaTanach". It's a competition for high school students sponsored by the Israeli government, held each year on...you guessed it: Yom Ha'azmaut, Israeli Independence Day. 

Avichai won the Chidon HaTanach when he was in 12th grade. Cool, right? He's also deaf. Oh, and blind. 

He went up and told his life story, which might have been an unfortunate one if viewed by an outsider. At age 2 he was hospitalized for a unknown virus that left him deaf in both ears. At the age of four, he received cochlear implants, which were just starting to "hit the market" at the time. He explained in detail how he clearly remembers the moment they turned them on, and in that one moment how his life changed. He never understood until then that the movements coming from people's mouths were actually sounds that meant something. (I'm sure you've seen this.)

His mother took the next few months and taught him how to speak. She took him outside everyday, pointing to objects as they went, making him repeat them, "Tree", "Grass", "House", until he gained a vocabulary. Several times throughout the speech, he reiterates how people think he's the "hero", but really, he sees his parents as the true heroes; for never giving up on him, and pushing him to succeed. 

At the age of 6, right before entering school, Avichai took another life-hit. He was playing at a playground when he took a fall from high monkey bars and hit his head, permanently damaging his optic nerves, and losing his sight forever. Again, his parents did everything in their power to help him. They had to fight a long, hard fight to get him into a mainstream school, and once he was in, they made sure he had a one on one aid, the braille that he needed, etc. 

This real life hero adds that his elementary years were miserable. He was in a school where the kids bullied him relentlessly. And then again, everything changed. He switched schools and entered a middle school Yeshiva, and suddenly he found himself surrounded by new, friendly faces. Kids who wanted to help him in every way. Avichai says here that it was precisely at this juncture in his life that he realized anything is possible, and that if he wanted something badly enough, he could accomplish anything. 

One thing that he always really loved was stories from Tanach. During the years after his implants, his mother spoke to him as much as possible, telling him stories often to improve his speech and vocabulary. And what stories does a Jewish mother tell her son? Tanach stories of course! From a young age he was enthralled with these stories. And then one day realized just how far he could take this knowledge.

In middle school he set winning the Chidon HaTanach as his next goal. The winner of the competition is named the "Chatan HaTanach", a prestigious title both in an out of Israel. He started competing in 9th grade, and each year, won a spot closer to 1st place. By 12th grade he placed first at the Chidon (which he took in Braille!), and won the title. His amazing story does not end there. 

Avichai was determined, like most Israeli boys his age, to serve in the army. He fought 2 long years with army officials to be able to serve.  After all, they argued, what could a blind and deaf 18 year old have to offer the army? Finally, he was accepted into the intelligence division of the army, and rose in ranks to a Captain. He loves to joke that he of all people joined the intelligence which is known as the "eyes and ears" of the army.

After Avichai finished the army he got his degree in finance, and added as an aside that just three weeks ago, he got his Master's degree in law, and currently works in a large brokerage firm here in Israel. Avichai is truly an amazing person, overcoming obstacles that most of us would be challenged to face, even given only one of them! 

The most inspiring part for me, however, is that A came home, walked through the door and excitedly said to me, "Imma! He is the coolest person in the world!"

And that's what this is all about. A school program that brought in someone like Avichai who made an impression on my young impressionable. Who showed these boys that if a person puts his mind to it, he can accomplish anything. 

And, simply, what better lesson can we teach our boys than that? 


Wendy said...

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

SaraK said...

This is so beautiful, made me cry