Good News Friday

This time last week I was writing about the devastating fires in Haifa and many other places around the country, and I had no time to write a Good News Friday post. This week I am writing in the midst of a huge rain and thunderstorm! This is certainly good news for the country though we could have done with the rain earlier – and this provides a very good excuse for another Good News Friday post.

My first item is fittingly connected to the Haifa fires (via Reality): local Arab businessmen donated wood to help rebuild a synagogue burnt in the fire:

Israeli-Arab businessmen who were asked to give an estimate to help repair damage caused to a synagogue in Haifa due to the massive fires there  have said they will carry out the project pro-bono, and refuse any compensation for the restoration work.

Extinguishing the fire at the Haifa synagogue

Extinguishing the fire at the Haifa synagogue

“I decided to help and not receive any payment,” said Walid abu-Ahmed, a wood panel supplier based in Haifa.

Burnt books from the synagogue fire

Burnt books from the synagogue fire

“Jews and Arabs live together in Haifa, and there is no discrimination. We must continue with this co-existence and promote peace.”

The third floor of the conservative Moriah synagogue in the Ahuza area of the city was burned in the fires which raged there on Thursday.

The Rabbi of the synagogue, Dovi Hiyon, was also looking for new wooden tables to replace the ones which were destroyed in the fire. He went to carpenter Shachar Sela, who agreed to work pro-bono, but wanted payment for the materials.

The carpenter went to several wood suppliers before reaching out to abu-Ahmad and Ziad Yunis. When abu-Yunis heard what the wood was to be used for, he decided to give the wood free of charge.

“I had tears in my eyes when I heard what was happening,” Rabbi Hiyon said. “It was so emotional to hear that Muslims were asking to donate to a Jewish synagogue. I’ve invited them to evening prayers to personally thank them.”

What a wonderful gesture of friendship and neighbourliness as well as simple generosity. This is no small thing given the nationalistic motive behind some of the fires. Kol hakavod to Walid abu-Ahmed and his friend for their generous donation. May this gesture signal a return to the coexistence for which Haifa is famed.

Still on the subject of the fires, the settlement of Neveh Tzuf was particularly hard hit by the flames, and a call went out appealing for donations of food, clothing, equipment, anything to help the newly homeless residents. Within the space of 48 hours the town was so inundated with donations they ahd to appeal to Israelis to stop giving! As Yehuda Glick says in his Facebook post below, “Who is like unto Your people Israel?”

Kol hakavod to every single person who donated goods or money. This is the true spirit fo Israel.

From fire to water, or rather to under water, an ancient stone, probably the base of a statue, was extracted from underneath the sea earlier this year, and the inscription on it has now been deciphered (via Zvi/Reality). It contains one of the few mentions of the name “Judah” in Roman artefacts:

In a rare underwater discovery, researchers from the University of Haifa have determined with certainty the name of the Roman procurator who ruled in Judea prior to the second- century Bar-Kochba Revolt.

An inscription bearing the name of a previously unknown Roman ruler of Judea was discovered off Tel Dor by the University of Haifa, in January 2016. (Courtesy of the University of Haifa)

An inscription bearing the name of a previously unknown Roman ruler of Judea was discovered off Tel Dor by the University of Haifa, in January 2016. (Courtesy of the University of Haifa)

Archeologists uncovered his name – Gargilius Antiques – engraved on a massive rectangular stone, during a maritime excavation at the Tel Dor archeological site south of Haifa.

… “Not only did we manage to identify with certainty for the first time the name of the procurator that controlled Judea during the critical years before the Bar-Kochba Revolt, but this is only the second time that a reference to the name Judea was revealed in any inscription from the Roman period,” Prof. Assaf Yasur-Landau and Dr. Gil Gambash said in a joint statement.

…“Apparently, this was the base of a statue from Roman times and to the best of our knowledge, this is the longest inscription ever discovered underwater in Israel,” Yasur-Landau said.

While the deciphering work on the inscription, led by Gambash, is still not complete, the information acquired thus far is already proving significant to the archeologists.

The researchers also emphasized the unique nature of the fact that Judea was even mentioned in a Roman inscription, as such a reference has only been found in one other relic – a stone commemorating Pontius Pilate in Caesarea, they explained.

This is truly an amazing find, both for its pure archeological and historical value and for us Jewish Israelis, as more proof, if ever proof were needed, of the indigenous status of the Jews in the Land of Israel.

Kol hakavod to Profs. Assaf Yasur-Landau and Dr. Gil Gambash of Haifa University and all the other researchers involved in this complicated operation. They have opened up a new window on our fascinating history.

Speaking of history, and to conclude this week’s post, the following story is the most wonderful heart-warming and inspirational story I have heard in a long while (via Brian Goldfarb). A posthumous award is to be given by a Jewish organization to an American officer who saved the Jewish GI’s under his command when they were captured by the Nazis and sent to a prison camp:

NEW YORK — In a singular act of humanity and defiance, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds stood up to a German commandant and saved 200 American Jewish GIs from transportation to a slave labor camp.

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, circled in red, at Camp Atterbury. (Courtesy Chris Edmonds)

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, circled in red, at Camp Atterbury. (Courtesy Chris Edmonds)

It was 1945 and Edmonds had been a prisoner of war in Stalag IX-A, a German POW camp for less than a month. As the highest-ranking officer there, he was responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs – 200 of whom were Jewish.

Throughout the war, the Wehrmacht either murdered Jewish soldiers captured on the Eastern Front or sent them to extermination camps. Jewish soldiers captured on the Western Front could be sent to Berga, a slave labor camp where survival rates were dismal.

The implication of these words is chilling beyond words.  As one of the commenters below the ToI article remarks, “the fact that at a time when the war was so clearly lost, the Germans were still intent on killing as many Jews as they could find. The contrast in morals between the Americans and Germans involved in this saga is amazing.”  Indeed, it is almost impossible to imagine the hatred of the Nazis towards the Jews that they would take the effort to search out Jews even amongst captured servicemen, and send them to slave labour or death camps. (I use the term “almost” advisedly. The hatred expressed towards us by some of our enemies is equally incomprehensible).

Because of this policy the US military told its Jewish soldiers that if they were captured they should destroy evidence of their faith, such as dog tags, which were stamped with the letter H for Hebrew, or personal prayer books that some soldiers carried.

Edmonds, who died in 1985, never spoke about the story. In fact, had it not been for his granddaughter’s college assignment many decades later, the officer’s story might have remained forever untold. But thanks to the subsequent persistence of Edmonds’ son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, the heroic story surfaced.

On Monday night the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous posthumously honored Edmonds with its “Yehi Or” (Let There Be Light) Award.

To understand why Edmonds never spoke about his courage — not to his wife, his children, nor to his grandchildren — is to understand something about the man himself.

“He was a man of faith. He never bragged on anything but God. Well, maybe his sons sometimes,” said Edmonds in a telephone interview days before he was scheduled to accept the award on his father’s behalf at The New York Public Library.

The crux of the story reads like something out of a thriller:

“We surrendered to avoid slaughter. We were marched without food and water, except for the few sugar beets we found along the road and puddles,” the 25-year-old wrote in his diary shortly after being transported to the camp which held upwards of 50,000 Allied soldiers near Ziegenhain.

As the highest-ranking office there, Edmonds, responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs, relied on his faith and sense of duty to keep the men safe and to keep morale as high as possible, said his son Chris.

One day in January 1945, a month after his capture, the Germans ordered all Jewish POWs to report outside their barracks the following morning. Edmonds knew what awaited the Jewish men under his command, so he decided to resist the directive. He ordered all his men — Jews and non-Jews alike — to fall out the following morning.

Upon seeing all the soldiers lined up, the camp’s commandant, Major Siegmann, approached Edmonds. He ordered Edmonds to identify the Jewish soldiers.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds said.

Irate, the commandant jammed his pistol against Edmonds’ head and repeated the order. Again, Edmonds refused.

“According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes,” Edmonds had said, according to one of the men saved that day.

The younger Edmonds regards all 1,292 men as heroes.

“When Dad got the orders and told his men that they were not giving up the Jewish soldiers, they could have said no,” he said. “When the commandant pressed the gun against my father some of the men could have pointed out the Jews. None of them did that. They all stood together.”

The JFR award comes just a year after Edmonds became the only American soldier, and one of just five Americans, named Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem. He is also the only Righteous Among Nations to have saved American Jews.

You don’t need me to explain you the significance of this outstandingly courageous act, both of the young Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds and of all the hundreds of men under his command. Every single one of them ought to receive this award.  In this day and age of increasing hatred and divisiveness, could we imagine such an act taking place today? I would like to think that we could.

May Roddie Edmonds rest in peace in Heaven where he surely belongs amongst the angels, and may his family take comfort in his blessed memory.

May this inspiring story and the others in today’s post light a candle of hope in these dark days, so suitable for the upcoming festival of lights, Channukah.

I wish you all Chodesh tov and Shababt Shalom!

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5 Responses to Good News Friday

  1. Pingback: Good News Friday – 24/6 Magazine

  2. rabbiadar says:

    Good news indeed, all around! Chodesh tov!

  3. Reality says:

    Wow that piece about Roddie Edmonds and his soldiers is amazing.Would that more people around the world behave like them .
    Isn’t it amazing that after all those fires which at least a third were arson,started by Israeli Arabs,there are some decent Arabs willing to help rebuild the shul.If only those Arabs could impress their behaviour on the others .
    Shabbat Shalom

    • anneinpt says:

      The piece on Roddie Edmonds brought me to tears. These heroes are incredible, and all the more so that they didn’t tell anyone about their heroics because they thought it’s simply the norm, what they ought to do. Halevai there were millions more like him in the world.

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