Today, on the 22nd day of Operation Protective Edge, I met the Iron Man from New York who has a heart of gold: Jonathan Goldsmith, age 31, an organizational consultant from New York, made Aliyah several months before the war and is currently a student at Beit Brodetsky in Tel Aviv.
Anyone who meets him in the corridors of Beit Brodetsky, wearing shorts and Havaiana flip-flops, would never guess that he’s an Iron Man. What is an Iron Man? An Iron Man is someone who completed the Iron Man competition. “First, you have to swim four kilometers. After that, you need to ride 180 kilometers on a bike, and then to run a marathon (42.150 kilometers). One after the other. It took me 11 hours and 25 minutes. That was in New York. I’ve done it four times,” he explains.
He made Aliyah because “Israel has always been a source of inspiration for me. I wanted to be in this land that gives me inspiration. I made Aliyah on my own. I have a small family. My father lives in Texas, my sister is in New York, my brother is in Texas and my grandmother lives in Florida. My amazing Mom passed away in 2005.”
He started running in 2007, and he understood very quickly that he did best at long-distance running. This was five years after he recovered from cancer. “When I was younger, at age fourteen, I had cancer, and I fully recovered in 2002. To mark my tenth anniversary of being cancer-free, I wanted to do something to celebrate. And the best thing you can do to mark something like this is to do something that is powerful. I decided to do the Iron Man competition. So I trained for two months, and I asked friends and family to collect money for the Sunshine Kids, an organization that helps children with cancer so that they can have a better life. They collect $50,000 for the children,” he said.
“In the fifteen years that I struggled, I collected $150,000 for various organizations that fight cancer,” he said. His life is a mission and a struggle to achieve, to reach positive goals.
“I just had to believe in myself. And that’s what I feel in Israel, and in the Ulpan. I didn’t know anything, no Hebrew at all, and now I know how to speak somewhat better,” he says in English, and then adds in Hebrew, “I have patience, and just like in a marathon, in the Iron Man competition, it is a lengthy battle,” he explained.
I asked him, “Because of the war, I understand that at the moment, you feel that we are in a difficult country?”
“Yes. But in the United States there are crazy people who shoot at kids in schools. In every society there are crazy people, but Israel is doing the significant job of defending its citizens, even better than what you’d find in certain places in the United States. I feel safe here. I feel at home. We have a place to hide at the Ulpan when there is a Code Red siren. For example, I was in the mall when there was a Code Red siren. We ran to the stairwell. One time, I was at a Sabbath meal in Ra’anana, and we went to the stairwell because of a Code Red alert. I’m not frightened.”
“When did you realize that you wanted to make Aliyah?” I asked.
“I’ve learned from a small age that I need to struggle in order to fulfil my dreams and do something of significance, and I try to do this in every area. For me, being in Israel is really and truly the fulfillment of a dream, doing something that has significance.”
“Can you tell me something about your life as a Jew and as an American citizen?” I asked.
“I became sick with cancer at the age of fourteen. I was in school and I stopped breathing, and they took me to the hospital where they discovered my illness. I had to go through a lot of radiation therapy to destroy the cancer, and a lot of chemotherapy. “After I had recovered a little, I started to study philosophy. I knew that I wanted to study Judaism. I wanted to do something meaningful. I know that Israelis earn less money, but there is so much generosity here. Just look at the teachers and counselors here. I was going to die. And then my mother passed away when I was twenty-two. Until the age of sixteen, I didn’t see another Jew, except for the person who holds the baby at a Brit, and my family. I did not want to compromise on my need to do something significant,” he said
“How are you coping with the war?” I asked.
“Last week, I had a hard week. A friend of mine, Arbel Heiman, lost his brother, Yuval Heiman, who was killed in Gaza. He was killed in a Golani Armored Personnel Carrier in Saajiya.”
“How did you deal with this?” I asked.
“I worked at it. I ran, I wrote to friends and I really tried to deal with it. I wrote letters to my friends in New York.” (The letter appears below.)
“What do you hope to achieve in Israel?” I ask.
“First of all, I want to raise a Jewish family in Israel. That has always been the first goal. In the United States, I became very interested in public health, because of my medical situation. I knew that I didn’t have medical insurance that would cover everything, and I knew that I was one of the lucky ones because a childhood friend of mine was the son of the director of the hospital, and if that hadn’t been the case, I question whether I would have survived. In Israel, if people have medical needs, they receive care, but it’s not like that in the United States.”
“What do you want to do here, in Israel?” I ask.
“I’m trying to get a broader picture of the job market. I send resumes and hope to find a way to make a significant contribution. I will succeed. First, I need to learn Hebrew, and it’s just like marathon training.”
“What’s your Hebrew level like?” I ask.
Jonathan answers in Hebrew. “I see that when I buy food or sit in a coffee shop, I am talking Hebrew.”
“I think you’ll be very successful here,” I say to him, and he responds, “I have wonderful siblings. I had an incredible mother. I have never suffered from a lack of love. There have always been issues that I had to cope with, but I never suffered from a lack of love. I have always tried to do the best I can in order to succeed.”
Jonathan Goldsmith’s letter to his friends in New York during the war
I felt compelled to write and update you guys today, as I received word this morning that a friend's brother had been killed last night by Hamas militants.
Yuval Heiman, 21 years old, from Efrat, was on guard duty at a civilian settlement inside of Israel, when terrorists came out of an underground tunnel indiscriminately shooting missiles and taking the lives of 7 young men, including Yuval. While I never knew Yuval personally, I met his brother Arbel a few years ago, as we bonded over his desire to one day train for an Ironman triathlon, and most recently caught up with him at a Shabbat dinner this summer. Needless to say, his death hit close to home, and I can't begin to imagine the pain and suffering he and his family must be enduring.
As much as I've tried to emulate the attitudes of my Israeli friends about this renewed (or continued) conflict with Hamas, which means living with a reasonable degree of normalcy while obviously keeping an eye on the bigger picture, news of Yuval's passing was a healthy dose of reality. And the reality is that things are not always as normal here as I like to think they are, and I feel I have the responsibility to share my experience (and complement news articles and even Facebook posts) about my perspective as a new immigrant here in Israel...
It's been almost 12 weeks since I moved to Tel Aviv, and now 12 days since the alarms first went off in my new home city. I had been laying on the beach watching the sunset after a relaxing evening bike ride, when the city's sirens suddenly sounded, informing everyone to take cover. Already being outside, I watched the missiles fly overhead, and it was incredible watching the Iron Dome missile defense system obliterate them in mid-air, turning them to smoke. Within 10 minutes, everyone was back on the beach, in the water, playing volleyball, etc, continuing on with their normal lives, as Israelis have grown accustomed to doing their entire lives.
Since then, the sirens have continued to sound almost every day, and with a bomb shelter in my apartment building, it's been an easy walk downstairs, a small inconvenience of 5-10 minutes. But at other times, it's been a little tougher. My Hebrew class (which I attend each morning) is in a building with a neighboring Kindergarten, containing 90 small children. When the sirens sound during class (again, as they have just about every day), we all help in bringing the kids to the building's bomb shelter, and carrying a 5-year old boy with fear/confusion in his eyes is quite an experience. Additionally, when I recently visited family in Efrat for Shabbat, and my aunt and I were 20 minutes into walking their dog, the sirens suddenly went off. We sprinted uphill to a nearby building and waited with our backs against the wall until a few minutes had passed. We heard the rocket land loud and clear (as it was not intercepted by the Iron Dome) and later discovered it touched down just 3 miles north.
The big question has gotten bigger and bigger with each passing day... When will they stop firing at us? As of 9:00 this morning, over 2,000 rockets and mortars had been fired into Israel. Of them, over 1,500 had hit and over 400 had been intercepted by the Iron Dome. Meanwhile, the Israeli military has sought to destroy roughly 3,000 terror targets, and as in Yuval's case, defend Israeli civilians from Hamas militants crawling out of secret, underground tunnels.
I know what you're probably thinking, that I must be ready to come back to the US already! But the truth is that in the past 3 months, I've felt the breath of fresh air I'd been anticipating since first making this decision a few years back... Crazy, right? I've run up and down the gorgeous coastline as far north as Arsuf and south as Yafo, celebrated beautiful weddings in Abu Ghosh and Caesaria (shoutout to Etanna and Yair, Irit and Rami!), competed in races in Haifa and Tel Aviv, appreciated the generosity of such amazing friends and family in Ra'anana, Petach Tikvah and Efrat for Shabbat weekends, and of course, worked diligently on learning Hebrew in order to have the best Aliyah experience I can. Despite all the tension, there really is something inspiring about living here.
But I do wish that days like today would unfold a little differently, without waking up to heartbreaking messages, without hearing and reacting to sirens going off on a daily basis, without hearing rockets exploding or being shot down outside my window, and most of all, without thinking to myself: When I have kids one day, which version of Israel will they have the chance to experience? My hope is that it's one without missiles being fired overhead or lunatics emerging from dangerous underground tunnels.
Thanks for your calls, messages, emails, etc over the past couple weeks. And thanks for continuing to include me in your lives from afar - Allie and John, on the birth of Victoria! Anne and Wee Yong, on the birth of Alistair! Pia and Luke, on what I'm sure was an amazing wedding weekend! And Diego and Anastasiya, on a beautiful wedding celebration!
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