Danny Lewin lived only thirty-one years, but he remains an inspiration on how to be a successful human being. I didn’t know of his story until today, but he instantly became a hero to me.
Danny was an American from Colorado who moved to Israel at the age of fourteen. He volunteered for army service and was selected for Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s most elite unit. He served with distinction as an officer and carried out dangerous missions, that we will never know about. He didn’t care about fame, he just wanted to serve and protect.
After the army, he built his company Akamai from nothing to one of the biggest ones in the business. He never gave in when he failed, he kept working around the clock and building the company until it became a success that today produces over 2 billion in revenue a year and is one of the world’s largest distributed computing platforms, responsible for serving between 15% and 30% of all web traffic.
And in his final moments on 9-11 when he was a passenger on Flight 11, Danny chose to fight back against evil. He used all of those skills he cultivated through his service to confront the terrorists and try to save others. Even though the odds were against him, Danny fought to the very end and refused to surrender.
Although we never met, Danny is very much linked to the values and beliefs I hold most important to me. As a soldier in the Sayeret Matkal in the IDF, Danny was a Krav Maga practitioner, and he is an example of everything Grandmaster Imi wanted his students to be, and everything I and every other soldier hope to live up to.
My own service was primarily spent training soldiers in order to teach them the Krav Maga mindset that Danny showed so well.
Now, in civilian life, I still train my students with that same mentality, to be able to respond with awareness to recognize what is happening in the present moment, think critically, and then act decisively.
In class, we are taught the 3 Es.
- Examine the situation.
- Execute the best option available.
- Exit from the danger.
It’s an easy thing to talk about, but much harder to do in the face of danger.
When confronted by armed terrorists, most would freeze or cooperate with the terrorists in hopes of saving their lives.
Because of his high level of training, Danny must have examined the situation and knew that the terrorists were not going to end this peacefully. Instead of succumbing to fear, Danny chose to engage even if the odds were completely against him.
He flipped the switch, going from a peaceful passenger to a warrior and attacked two of the terrorists, trying to use his training to subdue them, before a third terrorist stabbed him from behind. Although he didn’t succeed in stopping the attack, he refused to give in as long as he could keep fighting. Had he done nothing, he still would have been murdered thirty minutes later when the plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He took a chance of success and had there not been a third terrorist, he might have actually achieved victory.
The best way we can honor Danny and all of the other victims is to remember that the same power to fight back against evil exists in all of us. We can all make a difference.
I’m looking forward to reading more about Danny’s life and following up with an article next week on lessons from his story I plan to incorporate into my own teaching.
Today, I mourn Danny but as I go into Shabbat, I also raise my glass to him. “L’chaim.”
To the life that Danny lived, and to the life he has in our memories as we learn from him on how to be better.
I am always looking to collaborate with others with different talents, so I can evolve my own abilities. It’s amazing to learn from all of my talented students, who all have unique skills and life experiences that they share with me.
This article was the result of collaboration with my student Elke Weiss. In the last few months, she has been teaching me about history, writing, and research. I’m grateful for her help, and proud of her achievements, on and off the mat.