This year I was nominated as a hero. It is somewhat embarrassing to note that whist there are many nominees that have a thousand or more votes, my count remains well under 100.
Whist it would certainly be nice to win and gain an extra $25,000 for my non-profit organization, at this point I am under no illusion that there is even a remote possibility of me winning. Nonetheless it has given me pause to ask: What is a real Jewish hero?
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Fundamentally, a hero is someone who is able to set aside their own personal gain in order to achieve for the greater good. But it seems that a real hero is more than that. One of the Torah’s greatest heroes is Abraham.
What set Abraham apart from other people was his willingness to stand up for what he considered to be right despite what the surrounding culture and society thought. Abraham felt no necessity to fit in or to conform. It was because of his contrarian point of view that he was able to take on his family and ultimately even the government of his time.
A hero is someone who is not swayed by the masses and is able to stand up and take action against a trend that is morally or ethically indefensible.
My personal hero - my father
Upon reflecting on this it struck me that people who consistently act in a heroic manner will likely never be heard of by others. Firstly because a true hero never seeks gain or recognition for themselves. And second because most heroes go against the trend of a society and are therefore often not appreciated by others.
This led me to think about the heroes that I have met in my lifetime. My mind immediately turned to my late father, Dr. Derek Brackman. My father passed away suddenly in his sleep seven years ago – he was a scientist, a thinker, a teacher and the father of nine children. I was 26 years old when he died.
In my life I have been privileged to meet many great and wonderful people. But I have yet to meet a person who was able to follow his own inner voice to the extent that my father was able to.
He knew he wanted to become a scientist at age 11. Despite the fact that his father pressured him to go into the family business, he stayed true to his calling and was awarded a PhD in chemistry at age 25. He then spent 35 years as a research scientist and the rest of his career he spent teaching science and physics.
A few years after marrying, my mother decided to follow her brother and join the Chabad movement, where she became a fervent follower of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe.
My mother would have liked nothing more than for my father to have joined her as a Hasid. But as he later explained to me he was never able to truly buy into the concept of a Hassidic Rebbe or the ideas that Hassidism espouses. Despite the pressure, he stayed true to his inner voice and remained a traditional yet not at all Hasidic Jew.
My father was a warrior for truth and justice. The local member of Parliament knew my father well and so did many others in positions of authority. Injustice and falsehoods, big and small, bothered him deeply and he would stand up against them time and time again no matter how unpopular it may have made him.
There was a time when the local authority was giving out plastic bags that they claimed were biodegradable. Based on his background as a chemist my father knew that this was a misrepresentation. He used his influence to rectify the issue.
My father never did this type of thing for recognition and neither did he fear being considered a nuisance – he did it because he knew it was the right thing to do and no amount of outside pressure would have stopped him.
In my case time does not heal the pain of losing my father. In fact, as the years go by it becomes more painful. As I approach my mid 30s I am better able to relate to the challenges my father encountered in his life. My admiration for how he dealt with them grows exponentially.
The fact that I did not appreciate the true extent of my father's heroism when I was younger is a source of anguish for me now. But at the same time, when I realize what a great man he really was I am filled with tremendous sense of pride.
Ultimately one of the greatest gifts my father gave me was his modeling true heroism – he never pursued the making of money, he spent his entire life working for the greater good, and outside pressure would never stop him from fighting for and pursuing what he knew to be right.
My dad never sought recognition, the fact that he knew he was doing the right thing was all that seemed to matter to him. In that sense, like Abraham, my dad was a true Jewish hero.
Honoring heroes in our community is a wonderful thing to do, and The Jewish Federations are to be commended for creating a platform for doing so. Yet to commemorate the seventh anniversary of his passing, in these lines it is my privilege to honor my personal hero, my dad – may his soul rest in peace.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life
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