Good news Friday

This is the second part of what I hope will be a weekly feature of this blog – some good news about Israel for a change.

Courtesy of the BBC (yes! the BBC!) we learn that Israeli scientists have invented a way to turn a person’s skin cells into heart muscle. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction:

In the latest study, the team from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, took skin cells from two men with heart failure and mixed the cells up with a cocktail of genes and chemicals in the lab to create the stem cell treatment.

The cells that they created were identical to healthy heart muscle cells. When these beating cells were transplanted into a rat, they started to make connections with the surrounding heart tissue.

Lead researcher Professor Lior Gepstein, said: “What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young – the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when just born.”

Nadav Ben Yehuda and Aydin Irmak

Nadav Ben Yehuda and Aydin Irmak

Another piece of very heart-warming news was the widely publicized story of the young Israeli hero who gave up on his ambition to reach the top of Mt. Everest just 300 metres from the summit, in order to the save the life of a fellow climber – davka a Turkish man. This wasn’t technically good news for the Israeli, who suffered frostbite in his fingers during the rescue, but it was excellent news for the Turkish climber, besides being a wonderful kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name).

An Israeli mountaineer abandoned his dream to reach the summit of Mount Everest just 300 meters from the peak in order to save an injured Turkish climber.

Twenty-four-year-old Nadav Ben Yehuda would have become the youngest Israeli to summit the world’s highest mountain, but he aborted his ascent to assist the stranded climber, Israel Radio reported on Tuesday.

The two climbers were then evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu. Ben Yehuda was said to be suffering from frostbite in the course of the rescue, and there were fears that he might lose one or more of his fingers. The condition of the Turkish climber was not immediately known.

Ben Yehuda told Israel Radio that he assisted two other climbers in the course of his attempted ascent — a Briton and a Georgian.

Four climbers lost their lives on Everest at the weekend, and Ben Yehuda said his route was “strewn with bodies.”

Ynet provides more detail of Ben Yehuda’s heroic act:

Ben-Yehuda was scheduled to start his journey to the summit last Friday, but decided to delay it by one day, due to the weather conditions and over-crowdedness at the base.

“I didn’t want to get stuck at these heights, so I decided to sleep at a base that is located at an altitude of 8,000 meters,” he explained. “It was a difficult night. I slept in a sleeping bag inside a rickety tent set up in between rocks.”

The following day, Ben-Yehuda started the final stretch of his climb. “Throughout the route, I kept seeing bodies of dead climbers,” he recalled. But Ben-Yehuda was focused on his goal, and knew that at the rate he was going he could reach the peak as early as sunrise.

Then, only 300 meters before reaching the coveted destination, Ben-Yehuda spotted Aydin Irmak, a Turkish climber whom he met at camp, sprawled unconscious on the icy ridge.

“People passed him by and didn’t do a thing. I didn’t think for a second about politics – the fact that he was Turkish and I was Israeli. I also didn’t think about the glory. All I though about is that I can save this person – and that’s what I did,” Ben-Yehuda noted.

The resourceful climber described the difficult journey down the mountain. “I attached him to my harness, and we started the descent. It was very hard to carry him because he was heavy. At times he would gain consciousness, but then faint again. When he woke up he would scream in pain, which made it even more difficult,” he said, adding that it took 8 to 10 hours until they arrived at the closest base, located at an altitude of 7,900 meters.

However, the young mountain climber had one last hurdle to overcome on the way down when his oxygen mask broke. Shortly afterwards, Ben-Yehuda encountered another climber, from Malasia, who was also in his last breaths. At that moment he spotted a group of climbers who were making their way up the mountain. He shouted over to them, and asked that they give the two injured climbers some oxygen. By doing so, Ben-Yehuda also managed to save the Malaysian climber.

Aydin Irmak gets the last word:

Nadav did a great thing. He built a bridge between Turkey and Israel, and our leaders can learn a lot from him. Politics doesn’t matter much, what matters is human nature.

“I may have missed the summit, but I gained a new brother. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll climb the Everest together,” Irmak noted.

Halevai (if only) his words could come true and peace could break out again between the two formerly friendly countries.

Shabbat shalom!

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