Avidan Freedman

Looking for the Helpers

 When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Mr. Rogers

The volume of scary things in the news these days is overwhelming. More overwhelming is thinking about how many scary things don’t reach the news, how many scary things fall off of our news feed, persisting beyond the brief attention span of our social media.

The helpers are those rare, stubborn people who keep working long after the pictures of suffering children have stopped swamping Facebook and Twitter, who don’t allow the pictures to leave their minds, or to leave their hearts.

Elie Joseph is a helper. For years he has crisscrossed Israel, moving audiences with his retelling of the inspiring, but ultimately tragic story of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from annihilation, against all odds and against all logic. On January 17th, 1947, Raoul Wallenberg, the helper, was captured by Soviet authorities, and no one helped him. Not the Swedish government who sent him. And not the Jewish people whom he saved. Raoul Wallenberg was abandoned by the people he saved, forgotten, and remains largely forgotten by them to this day.

Elie wants to declare January 17th as “Helper Day,” a day the children of Israel will learn the forgotten stories of helpers like Raoul Wallenberg. But to remember the helpers isn’t enough, Elie insists. To truly honor their memory demands that we live the legacy of compassion that these helpers have left us.

Living that legacy today, Elie teaches, means taking a stand against the sale of Israeli weapons and military expertise to countries committing gross violations of human rights. Yes, while we rightfully pride ourselves on our humanitarian missions and moral standards, Israeli companies also make billions of dollars in arms trade, with many millions of those dollars coming from governments responsible for mass murder, rape and torture. And some of our best and brightest, graduates of the IDF’s elite units, are seduced by generous salaries to provide the murderers and rapists with the training they need to commit their crimes.

It’s an awful story, all the more awful because it’s not at all new. And other helpers have been trying for years to change it. Attorney Eitay Mack works tirelessly on legal efforts, petitioning the Supreme Court for transparency, drafting legislation introduced by Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, and initially, by Yehuda Glick of the Likud as well, to stop Israeli arms sales to gross violators of human rights.

But Eitay and Elie are looking for more helpers. They’re looking for helpers so Elie won’t stand alone as he protests in front of the Knesset on “Helper Day.” They’re looking for 50,000 and 100,000 more helpers to sign the petition against weapons sales. They’re looking for millions of helpers who will tell their representatives in Knesset that Israel cannot soil its soul with the blood of innocents, cannot sell its soul for economic or diplomatic support.

Will you help?

Avidan Freedman tries to do his small part to help helpers. Maybe you can help?

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the co-founder and director of Yanshoof (, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators, and an educator at the Shalom Hartman Institute's high school and post-high school programs. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.