Last week I skipped my Good News Friday installment because of the tragic news that week. I had hoped to post earlier this week but, as you may have noticed, I didn’t get around to it.
But Friday has arrived again so it’s time to catch up on some Good News for a change.
Starting with an event that is happening even as I type, the Giro d’Italia bike race is taking place in Jerusalem, continuing with rides from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and then Beer Sheva to Eilat.
The Giro d’Italia, one of the world’s foremost cycling events, is being dedicated this year to Italian cyclist and Holocaust-era hero Gino Bartalli: (about whom I have written before). From the ToI link:
In the shadow of a cattle car that once transported Jews to the concentration camps, Israel on Wednesday bestowed honorary citizenship on the late Gino Bartali, a cycling hero who helped ferry forged documents to Jews during the Holocaust.
Six cyclists from the Israel Cycling Academy took a memorial ride through the Yad Vashem campus in honor of Bartali, part of the celebrations of the Giro D’Italia cycling race that will start in Israel on Friday.
Bartali was a world-class cyclist and part of the underground resistance during World War II.
During his life, Bartali refused to talk about his courier work during the war, saying famously, “Good is something you do, not something you talk about.” On Wednesday, dozens of supporters wore shirts emblazoned with those words as the Giro D’Italia organizers honored Bartali’s contribution to both the sport of cycling and the rescue of dozens of Jews.
The memorial ride concluded in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, where Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev presented the certificate of Commemorative Citizenship to Bartali’s granddaughter, Gioia Bartali.
“The greatest victory that Bartali ever brought home was the victory against evil,” said Italian ambassador to Israel Gianluigi Benedetti.
A tearful Gioia Bartali said the day was a “testimony to his humanity and goodness,” adding that “he was a champion of the sport, but today we are remembering him as a champion of life.”
Bartali, born in Florence in 1914, was one of Italy’s most famous road cyclists. He won the Giro d’Italia race three times (in 1936, 1937 and 1946) and the Tour de France twice (in 1938 and 1948). The favored “iron son of Tuscany” used the excuse of long training rides to ferry photographs to an underground network of rabbis, priests, nuns and activists who created forged papers to help Jews escape Italy during the war.
Bartali hid the documents and photographs in the frame of his bicycle, waving gaily to Nazi soldiers as he passed by Italy’s windy country roads. Bartali also hid a Jewish family in his apartment.
Bartali died in 2000, and Yad Vashem recognized Bartali as a Righteous Among the Nations in 2013. On Thursday, the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael will dedicate a bike path in the Jerusalem Forest in honor of Bartali.
You can watch a video about the Giro d’Italia race and Gino Bartali here:
Israel is especially honoured because, as the Times of Israel notes, “It is the first time in the 101-year history of the Giro D’Italia that the race will start outside of Europe.”.
i24 TV interviewed Gino Bartali’s granddaughter here:
What a wonderful way to honour such a heroic man, and to tie it all in with this fantastic race and simultaneously honour Israel. Kol Hakavod to Sylvan Adams who initiated and funded the Israeli section of the Giro d’Italia. Good luck to all the participants and may the best man (or woman) win!
If we want to talk about heroes, here is another athletic hero, albeit in a different setting: a paralyzed man finished the London Marathon aided by the Israeli ReWalk robotic suit:
Simon Kindleysides of Norfolk, England became the first paralyzed man to finish the London Marathon on Monday, an astonishing feat which took him 36 hours to complete.
He was able to walk the entire 26.2 mile course with the help of the the ReWalk robotic exoskeleton suit, a wearable device developed in Israel that allows paraplegics to mimic the function of the legs and hips.
Though Kindleysides is the first paralyzed man to have completed the London Marathon, he is not the first paralyzed person to do so. In 2012, Claire Lomas made headlines when she became the first paraplegic to complete the course (also with the help of ReWalk), a challenge that took her 17 days. Her accomplishment also granted her the honor of lighting a torch at Trafalgar Square ahead of that year’s Paralympics.
Claire, who was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident, said the ReWalk suit is “brilliant” and has been invaluable to her.
Congratulations to Simon Kindleysides on his wonderful achievement and kol hakavod once again to the Israeli developers of ReWalk, helping paralyzed patients all over the world.
And now to heroics of another kind altogether, the Mossad not only know how to lift half a ton of documents from Iran, but they ran a spying operation under cover of a very successful holiday village in Sudan! The BBC has a surprisingly positive story about the holiday village run by spies, which reads like the best thriller:
Arous was an idyllic holiday resort in the Sudanese desert, on the shores of the Red Sea. But this glamorous destination was a base for Israeli agents with a secret mission.
“Arous on the Red Sea, a wonderful world apart,” the glossy brochure says, pronouncing it “the diving and desert recreation centre of Sudan”
Illustrated with pictures of putty-coloured chalets on a sun-drenched beach, a smiling couple in scuba gear, and varieties of exotic fish, the advertisement boasts of “some of the best, clearest water in the world”. As night falls – “after the landscape colours have paled” – there are, it says, “breathtaking views of the heavens, aflame with millions of stars”.
Arous Village, on the fringe of spectacular coral reefs and the odd shipwreck, appears to be a diving enthusiast’s dream.
The Sudanese International Tourist Corporation was also happy. It had leased the site to a group of people introducing themselves as European entrepreneurs, whose venture brought some of the first foreign tourists to the country.
The only thing was, unbeknown to the guests or the authorities, the Red Sea diving resort was entirely fake.
It was a front, set up and run for more than four years in the early 1980s by operatives from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.
They used it as a cover for an extraordinary humanitarian mission – to rescue thousands of beleaguered Ethiopian Jews stranded in refugee camps in Sudan and evacuate them to Israel. Sudan was an enemy Arab country, and it had to be done without anyone finding out, either there or at home.
“It was a state secret, nobody talked about it,” says Gad Shimron, one of the agents who served at the village. “Even my family didn’t know.”
It all started when Ethiopian Jews started fleeing famine in Ethiopia and crossed into Sudan. One of them, Ferede Aklum, sent a letter pleading for help:
He sent letters to relief agencies, pleading for help, and one found its way to the Mossad. For the then Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin – himself a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe – Israel existed as a safe haven for Jews in peril. The Beta Israelis were no exception and he instructed the intelligence agency to act.
Located by a Mossad agent, Ferede channelled messages back to his community, saying there was a better chance of getting to Jerusalem from Sudan than Ethiopia, which had severely restricted emigration….
Almost straight away, some small-scale rescue activities got under way, with Ethiopian Jews spirited out of Sudan to Europe on forged papers, then on to Israel.
Sudan’s Red Sea coastline, though, presented the possibility of stepping up operations on an altogether different scale.
“We approached the [Israeli] navy for help,” says a high-level agent involved in the mission, who did not want to be named.
“They said, ‘OK,’ so a couple of Mossad guys went down to Sudan looking for possible landing beaches. They just stumbled across this deserted village on the coast, in the middle of nowhere.
“For us it was a godsend. If we could get hold of this place and do it up, we could say we’re running a diving village, which would give us a reason for being in Sudan and furthermore for roaming around near the beach.”
What happened next is the subject of a soon-to be released Hollywood film called Red Sea Diving Resort. Filmed in Namibia and South Africa, it tells the story of the operation and the village.
While we may consider the spies and pilots and captains the heroes of this story, the Mossad’s Gad Shimron says otherwise:
Over the course of the next five years, more operations followed, bringing in total almost 18,000 Beta Israelis to begin a new life in the Jewish state.
Ferede Aklum was among them.
“The Ethiopian Jews are the real heroes of the story,” says Gad, as he sipped tea in a cafe in Tel Aviv, “not the pilots, nor the Navy Seals nor the Mossad operatives.
Read the entire article. It’s riveting and very entertaining! The most amusing part of the whole story is that even while acting as a cover for some very dangerous work, the resort earned itself a great reputation and became a resounding success!
Go and read it all.
Kol hakavod to the BBC (who would ever have thought I would say those words?!) for bringing us this fantastic story! Kol hakavod to the Ethiopian Jewish community for their courage and fortitude in withstanding such terrible times. And of course all honour is due to the Mossad for their operations 40 years ago and today.
And to finish off this post, since we have gone back in history let us go back even further, about 2,000 years to be (almost precise). Just in time for the festival of Lag Ba’Omer which was celebrated yesterday, a Bar-Kochba-era coin was unearthed outside Modi’in (home of the Chanuka heroes, the Maccabees):
Even as the Jewish people on Lag B’Omer Thursday celebrate the heroism of Simon Bar Kochba in rebelling against the pagan ruling Roman Empire in 132 CE, a tangible symbol of the revolt — a single bronze coin — was recently discovered in a limestone cave outside of the central Israeli city of Modiin.
The discovery of a single bronze coin from the Bar Kochba Revolt so far from the Jerusalem area, until recently considered the center of the rebel’s efforts, is important evidence for historians in corroborating the broad geographical spread of the revolt and its supporters, who presumably took refuge in the new Modiin cave.
Historians have traditionally held that the revolt had little support among residents who lived north of Jerusalem. This coin, along with recent discoveries of other refugee caves, points to rebel activity in the area.
The coin is etched on one side with a seven-branched date tree bearing two bunches of dates, and the inscription “Shin-mem-ayin” for Shimon, the leader of the revolt. On the other is a grape leaf and the abbreviated inscription, “Leherut Yerushalayim” or “For the Freedom of Jerusalem.”
The coin was unearthed during continuing excavations in the West Bank in an archaeological project launched in 2014 to survey southern Samaria. It is a joint excavation between COGAT — the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Bar-Ilan University, and Ariel University.
The Bar Kochba revolt was a story of great courage although it ended tragically. And yet one of its heroes, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, wrote the Zohar while in hiding and ordered his students not to mourn but to celebrate when he dies:
The Bar Kochba or Great Revolt, which lasted three and a half years, was the last and arguably greatest of several Jewish uprisings against foreign rulers in ancient times. The rebels prepared well ahead of time and according to the 3rd century historian Dio Cassius, Roman legions were brought from other Empire outposts to quell it.
Dio Cassius writes that some 50 Jewish fortresses and over 1,000 settlements were destroyed, along with hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives lost. Rabbinical leaders who supported Bar Kochba were executed, including the scholar Rabbi Akiva, who had anointed Shimon as Bar Kochba (Son of the Star), a messiah for the Jews.
One of Akiva’s most revered students was Shimon Bar Yohai, who hid with his son, Rabbi Eleazar, in a cave for 13 years after criticizing Roman rule. He is said to have died on the 33rd day of the Omer, known as Lag B’Omer, which was celebrated throughout the Jewish world on Wednesday night with bonfires. Today, the bonfires are also considered a symbol of the Bar Kochba revolt.
This find may have been just a little coin, but as with all archeological artifacts discovered in this country, each of them carries a historical weight far beyond its physical size. This coin not only proves (if proof were still needed) the Jews’ millennia-long connection to the Land of Israel, but it shines a spotlight on our heroic history and links us back to our very roots.
Kol hakavod to the archeologists who made this great discovery. I can’t wait to hear what they will uncover next!
And with these heroic thoughts in mind I wish you all Shabbat Shalom.