Tova Herzl

Studies in courage, bravery and cowardice

Bravery is usually defined as mental or moral strength required to face danger, difficulty, pain, uncertainty, often while fulfilling essential tasks. Some see bravery as lack of fear. Others define courage as lack of fear, while bravery manifests itself among those who overcome their fear. Let us ignore the distinction, and rather look at manifestations, as well at its absence among those whose position and responsibility would demand certain conduct, especially when they stand to lose little.

* * *

As Israel’s ambassador to the Baltic states in the nineties, I was humbled to present diplomas to Lithuanians and Latvians who were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. They were villagers and city people, rich and poor, educated or not. All risked their lives, and those of their nearest, in order to save Jews, including complete strangers. At the awards ceremonies, I would ask those present, including myself, who of us is certain how we would have acted in such a situation. Their moment of truth could last months and even years, and demanded a renewed decision daily, to continue or to stop. I wish that I was sure that I would pass this test of ultimate humanity. Words cannot describe individuals who risked all to save others.

* * *

In the current war, as in all of Israel’s battles, we have seen exceptional expressions of courage. Inter alia, those who jump on hand grenades in order to save others. There is no time to weigh the pros and cons, no possibility to consult, no way back, only one possible outcome. A split-second decision, and that is that. I am unable to imagine what goes through the mind in the wink of an eye between understanding what is at stake, reviewing options, decision, action and death. Is there a sense of duty? Pride? Fear? Sorrow at the impending outcome, regret about potential which will never be realized? Hope that one’s nearest and dearest will accept and understand, perhaps be proud, rather than resentful? We will never know. Words cannot describe those who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that others will live.

* * *

Behind the scenes, certain members of the coalition say that Netanyahu must go. Likud parliamentarians whisper to journalists that every day he remains in power undermines not only the party but also the country. Some hope that someone else, possibly from another party, will take the lead, and they will follow. They understand better than anyone who leads the country these days, and how it is done. They read the polls. They know full well what has to happen. Yet, in face of very real threats, say a tweet from Yair Netanyahu in Miami, or a public telling-off from one of the PM’s vocal mouthpieces, maybe even an implied threat to their political future, they do nothing, say nothing. They have no words, and neither do I.

About the Author
Tova Herzl served twice as congressional liaison in Washington DC, was Israel's first ambassador to the newly independent Baltic states, and took early retirement after a tumultuous ambassadorship in South Africa. She is the author of the book, Madame Ambassador; Behind The Scenes With A Candid Israeli Diplomat.
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