Yael Schiffenbauer came from Israel last month for the annual New York dinner of Friends of the IDF. At the dinner, she shared the story of her husband, Dani, and the medal FIDF awarded him.
Yael and Dani were both born in Uruguay. He made aliyah at age six in 1973. At 18 he met Yael, a newly arrived immigrant, shortly before he entered service, dreaming of becoming a pilot.
“In the blink of an eye the boy became a man!” Yael said. “[The army] does that to you. When your schoolbag is replaced by an M-16, the sense of responsibility to protect your country suddenly becomes very real. The power to kill — and the power to save lives — is in your hands. It forces you to grow up quickly.”
As a helicopter pilot, Dani rose in the ranks to become a squadron commander, charged with training a new generation of combat pilots.
In the Second Lebanon War, fighting Hezbollah, Dani commanded a heroic rescue-under-fire that made him and his crew eligible for the highest award in the air force, the equivalent of a Purple Heart.
Dani the hero refused the nomination. He didn’t believe he deserved it — he was just doing his job.
For most of their married life, Dani and Yael lived in family housing inside air force bases. Dani longed for a house of his own. Finally he bought a house in a peaceful development near the base. Three days after he moved in he was called away. He flew to Romania for a joint training exercise in the Carpathian Mountains.
“He was torn about leaving us,” Yael recalled, “but I had become used to his leaving at all hours of the day or night, being gone for long periods of time, not knowing where he was. This is life in the army.”
As soon as Dani left, Yael began unpacking. She couldn’t wait to see Dani’s face when he returned and found his books, clothes and army gear all neatly put away.
There was a knock on the door. It was one of their friends. “What a sweetheart,” she thought. “He came to check on me.”
She was taken aback by the look on his face. His usual wide smile was missing. She knew at once that what he had come to tell her would change her life forever.
Dani’s helicopter encountered severe weather. It crashed into a mountain. All aboard were killed. Just months ago, his three sons accepted his FIDF medal on his behalf.
Dinner chairman Arthur Stark stood by Yael’s side as, wiping her eyes, she related her story before 1,000 guests.
Finally, Dani got his medal.
Tim Boxer was a columnist at the New York Post for two decades. He has been writing a column for The Jewish Week for 35 years and is a writer/photographer at 15MinutesMagazine.com. He is the author of “Jewish Celebrity Hall of Fame,” interviews of Hollywood stars about their Jewish roots.