The other “Philadelphia Story” — Commemorating Israel’s Fight for Freedom

Benny Davidson, Rescued Entebbe "Bar Mitzvah" hostage - speaking at Philly Yoni Memorial July 5
Benny Davidson, Rescued Entebbe “Bar Mitzvah” hostage, speaking at Philly Yoni Memorial, July 5

The US Democratic Convention plays out in Philadelphia, in the symbolically laden birthplace of American democracy.

In Israel “Philadelphia Freedom” was invoked two weeks’ prior on the solemn hills of Jerusalem, to Prime Minister Netanyahu and an entourage of Israeli leadership.

Gathered at the gravesite of Entebbe Rescue Hero Yoni Netanyahu on Mt. Herzl on Tuesday evening, July 12, 2016, were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and family, including brother Iddo Netanyahu, who is the author, playwright, and chronicler of brother Yoni and his role as national hero. Also in attendance were President Reuven Rivlin, former President Shimon Peres and a host of other Israeli top leaders.

Speaking to the assembled on behalf of the rescued Entebbe hostages was Benny Davidson, 53, who forty years ago was anticipating an exciting family “Bar Mitzvah” trip to tour the US, when their Air France plane was diverted for a week of incarceration and anticipated doom in Uganda.

Benny, a successful hi-tech entrepreneur, shared with the Israeli top leadership gathered, that he came to Mt. Herzl direct from Philadelphia after celebrating “his 40th – other birthday” on America’s Independence Day just days before.

These are the words that Benny shared:

“On the 4th and 5th of July this year I participated in events commemorating Yoni in Philadelphia USA.

Events that were organized with the great support of Yoni’s friend and classmate and the Netanyahu family friend, Mr. Steven Friedman. And thus, in Yoni’s memorial, I was asked to tell my personal story, just steps away from United States Liberty Bell, on which the following is inscribed – “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof”

With a trembling voice, in front of a large audience, (at the US Yoni Netanyahu Memorial, outside the doors of) … Mikveh Israel Synagogue that was founded in 1740 and is one of the oldest synagogues in the USA that is still active, I shared my personal experience from that week of hijacking.

Yoni’s place is engraved in my heart since July 4th 1976.

God is my witness how hard was it for me with the price that he paid, with the price that the other victims paid, with the price that dear Sorin Hershko is still paying each and every day.

For many years I said “Yoni was killed BECAUSE of us”. I felt guilt as a boy and deep sorrow and pain as a growing man.

Only there, near Yoni’s memorial, in the shades of the old Mikveh Israel synagogue, inspired by the Liberty Bell and Yoni’s childhood friends, I found the new words – “Yoni was killed FOR us”.

Yoni fell and in his falling gave us life. Yoni fell in the battle, demonstrating courage, leadership and self-sacrifice second to none. Yoni fell in the midst of a battle that all of its essence is – Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the (far away) Land Unto All the (Israelis and Jews) Inhabitants thereof.

Dear Yoni, I didn’t know you, but ever since July 4 1976, on the day of my birthday, I celebrate my freedom and mourn your falling.

May your memory be blessed forever.”

Following those words, Benny gave to each of the brothers Benjamin and Iddo, a copy of his speaking schedule of July 4 and 5 in Philadelphia, where he shared his heart and soul to Jewish community leaders and other American lovers of Israel.

On America’s July 4 Independence Day, Benny Davidson along with former Mossad officer Avner Avraham, spoke to key executives of Jewish groups training the next generation of American Jewish leadership. At historic Congregation Mikveh Israel the Israelis spoke to Andy Borans, head of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, StandWithUS’s Mid-Atlantic head Yossi Puder, Hasbara Fellowships’ Managing Director Fay Goldstein, Young Jewish Leadership Concepts’ Co-Founder Lou Balcher, and the local Cherry Hill JCRC program director Brandon Cohen.

One of the main points of discussion after hearing the riveting tale of Davidson’s rescue, and Mossad “spy tales” enabling it to happen, was the different perceptions between young adults and seasoned Jewish community professionals on the two touchstones of American Jewish identity, that of Israel and the Holocaust.

On Tuesday, July 5, Davidson and Mossad’s Avraham participated in three separate events, telling personal stories of the Entebbe Rescue.

At a solemn one-hour after-work ceremony, next to the US Memorial to Yoni Netanyahu one block from the Liberty Bell, Davidson and Avraham were joined by former CIA Director James Woolsey, Event Host and Yoni’s boyhood friend Steven L Friedman, Esq., IAF attaché from the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Lt. Col. Gal Ofer, Event MC, Jonathan Tobin, Editor, Commentary Magazine, and other speakers in a dignified and impactful commemoration of Yoni and Entebbe at the birthplace of American Freedom.

Davidson was so emotionally affected by the experience that he remarked to an event organizer that “only when I came here to Philadelphia did I truly feel that Yoni was my older brother, who saved my life.”

An intense educational and emotional program preceded the Ceremony, with a screening of “Follow Me” the Yoni Netanyahu Story, followed by the personal step-by-step hijacking experience of Benny Davidson. Afterwards Mossad “spy stories” of Avner Avraham revealed Israeli intelligence resources that were employed in the planning and final “go” decision. Ending the pre-ceremony session was another highly emotional and personal reflection by Mark Levin, father of Lone Soldier – Michael, the American youth deeply inspired by Yoni, who fell in the Second Lebanon War ten summers ago.

Following the Yoni Commemoration Ceremony, community leaders’ hearts were touched by Jewish soul songstress icon Neshama Carlebach. They heard from two leading Israeli medical professionals, Dr. Carlos Gruzman, CEO of Rehovot’s Kaplan Medical Center, and his visionary Chief Cardiologist Prof. Kobi George, explaining Israeli hi-tech medicine in the effort to launch a one-year educational effort in churches, synagogues and campuses, to tell Yoni’s story and to “continue Yoni’s legacy of Saving Lives” by partnering with Israeli citizens to build the largest Hi-Tech Cardiac Center in the Middle East.

On Jerusalem’s Mt. Herzl on July 12, two weeks prior to the Philadelphia Story of democracy in action now playing out in the City of Brotherly Love, rescued witness of Israel’s Entebbe operation, Benny Davidson, linked his Philadelphia experiences on America’s Independence days to Israel’s leadership cadre.

Davidson related the shared American-Israeli values of Freedom, Liberty, Democracy, and the historic miraculously successful Fight for Freedom which occurred, perhaps predestined, on America’s Bicentennial, July 4 1976.

About the Author
Lou Balcher served from 2004 - 2013 as Director of Academic Affairs to Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. He also served as Education Director for Congregation Tifereth Israel in Bensalem, PA, and as administrator and teacher for Gratz College's Jewish Community High School. He is a former Membership Director for the Philadelphia and Cincinnati regions of B'nai B'rith International. For three decades, he has coordinated post-college young leadership programs for Young Jewish Leadership Concepts. Additionally, he consults as National Director of the American Friends of the Kaplan Medical Center, Rehovot, Israel which serves more than one million Israeli citizens.