Sublime Heroism

A story forwarded by Eric Friedland…

Here’s the challenge:

In your last seconds of life, with terrorists spraying bullets at you, would you:
(1) try to kill those who are trying to kill you and all your people?
(2) run for cover rather than be blown apart by bullets? Or
(3) Make Noam’s choice, turn your back on the terrorists, even though you have a sidearm, and leap to lock the doors and hurl away the key, so that the murderers cannot kill the dozens of your fellow students in the room beyond?

We will never know what choice we would make. But we do know what choice Noam Apter made, and he deserves our attention and gratitude. How often does it happen, that a soul is revealed, in its essence? The pure, virtuous soul of Noam Apter was revealed on Friday, December 27, 2002. Most of the world missed that profound moment. Not a single mainstream media source mentioned Noam’s actions, nor even his name, outside of Israel. We are so caught up in the next deaths, the next bombings and the latest number of body parts. When a sublime act of heroism occurs, we don’t even notice.

Here’s what happened. Listen, remember, and tell the story to others. It deserves to be told.

Boys from the Otniel Yeshiva (religious university) outside of Hebron, were hosting young men from another yeshiva, Har Etzion, for Sabbath. The boys gathered together for Friday evening services, then made their way to the dining hall. Noam Apter, 23, was in charge of the kitchen crew that night. The Otniel boys all take turns cooking and serving. Yehuda Bamberger, 20, and Tzvi Ziman, 18, were also on kitchen duty. So was Gavriel Hotter, only 17, who was waiting for his 18th birthday so that he could officially join in the complete Hesder program.

Otniel and Har Etzion are Hesder Yeshivas. Students in these schools, although religious, also serve their country with rotations in the Israeli Defense Forces. They alternate Torah study, their religious duty, with military service, their national duty. Otniel is known as an “artsy” yeshiva, with courses that include drama and dancing. Noam’s mother, Pirhiya, recently recalled his entrance interview. Noam and the admissions Rabbi spent the time discussing the book Noam was reading, Catcher in the Rye.

After sunset, the boys streamed into the dining hall. The Otniel hosts were already serving the first course of fish, salads, hummus and tehina. The plates were cleared, and the soup course was underway. As the crew arranged the soup bowls on the platters, two Palestinian terrorists dressed in Israeli military uniforms burst into the kitchen through an open service door. Their guns pumped bullets into Tzvi, Gavriel and Yehuda, who were gunned down where they stood. Tens of bullets were found in each of these boys.

But Noam.

Noam, the “one in charge,” had a sidearm. But with the bullets slicing the air and his friends, he never turned to fire. Noam lunged toward the door leading to the dining room. Though already shot in the back, Noam managed to lock that door, and hurl the key out of reach. Noam’s body was recovered there, at the door, riddled with bullets. But the terrorists could not get through the door to complete their mission: to gun down as many as possible of the dozens of young men inside.

This child of God, this Zionist soldier, with his last breaths, saved the lives of dozens of others, rather than his own, and rather than try to take the lives of the murderers. This is a story of humanity at its apex.

The news reports, the few that ran, referred to Noam Apter as an unnamed “Yeshiva student” and “settler” who was one of four killed by Palestinians. Of all the print media in the United States, there was exactly one mention of this young man by name. Only The New York Post shared the miracle of Noam with its readers.

I met Noam Apter, when I and several friends went to Israel on a study and solidarity mission. Noam, an adorable young man with an M-16 rifle (it isn’t incongruous in Israel), accompanied us as our guard. We were a bunch of middle-aged, fairly knowledgeable, somewhat observant, mostly left-leaning American Jews. But this young man touched us all. I told him to forget his girlfriend, because I have two daughters and I wanted him to marry one of them.

I spoke with Yossi Apter, Noam’s father, to share his grief. During our conversation he remembered Noam told him what I said about my daughters. How sweet, how tragic. That trip to Israel was as close as I will ever get to knowing a hero.

If you share this story, you will be spreading the tiny drop of pure goodness and decency in the sea of madness flowing from the Middle East.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus
Philadelphia, PA USA


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.