Night Of Heroes, a celebration of the community’s outstanding achievers held by Jewish News on Monday night, was inspired by a remarkable man my team and I simply call ‘Our hero’.
On Wednesday, 1 July 2015, we were set to send another issue of this newspaper to the printers when news broke that Sir Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 children from the Holocaust, had died, at the grand old age of 106.
We spent the night rewriting the edition and ran those two simple words on the front page. ‘Our hero’.
In the days that followed, we considered Sir Nicky’s life and legacy. How he had let light into the darkest days; how his heroism was eclipsed only by the parents who put their children on his Kindertransport trains.
And we wondered: what did the word ‘hero’ stand for then, what does it stand for now, and in who is it found?
The answers, according to news editor Justin Cohen (something of a hero himself) would be found by holding a grand celebration honouring today’s greatest role models.
Thanks to Justin’s supreme efforts, 500 people gathered at the Marriott Hotel in central London this week to honour our truly outstanding achievers.
These days we’re so celebrity-obsessed that a goal-scoring sportsman or trend-setting singer is hailed a hero – for 15 minutes at least.
Unless you’re a surgeon or soldier, being good at your job doesn’t tend to make you heroic. Showing empathy and humility – shining bright when life is tough – does.
Modern role models are in all walks of life and come in all shapes and sizes.
A boy’s first hero is his father. Mine was born weeks before war, missed school with polio and dragged himself up by his boot straps from office boy in a Stepney tower block to company director. He and mum raised three happy children in a Wembley semi-detached who wanted for nothing.
One day I’ll be half the man Alan Ferrer is.
Next came the teacher who set my imagination free. At the Michael Sobell Sinai School in 1981, the aptly named Mr Leader coaxed a shy 10-year-old out of his shell, sparked his love of reading and made him captain of the cricket team.
For reasons that baffle me still, he never wavered in his belief in my ability to spell long words and slog-sweep over square leg.
You don’t have to meet your heroes to be moved by them. My formative years were shaped by The Famous Five’s tomboy George, the Young Ones’ anarchist Rick, Press Gang’s formidable editor Lynda Day, intrepid Kate Adie, Joey Lawrence (a phase) and John Lennon.
A mixed bag, but each offered something to strive for.
Heroes become less mythical as we grow more cynical.
They become more carers than cape wearers.
They put others first and act without reward.
They rise to the occasion.
They do not possess powers beyond ordinary folk and are all more magnificent for it.
We all have the hero gene. We can all be more generous with our time. We can all emulate those we honoured on Monday night. We can all be a mensch.
We can all heed the words of ‘Our hero’: “Don’t be content to do no wrong. Be prepared every day to do some good.”