The Author


I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, I’m proud to have been born in Israel, and I am enormously proud of how Israelis have built an exemplary society with equal parts of backbone and heart.

Last year, my son Marc and I spent a week in Israel doing the usual sight-seeing/family-visit combo. Marc has travelled extensively but he had never been to Israel so this trip was so much more than a simple holiday. I wanted very much for my son to see the Israel I know, a country of exceptional achievement, but just as importantly, a place where compassion and courage can be found in equal measure.

On our last evening in Israel, we witnessed an episode that couldn’t have been a better demonstration of that unique Israeli combination of heart and grit.

We were having dinner with my cousins in Rehovot when an obviously inebriated older gentleman sat down at one of the restaurant’s patio tables and proceeded to make a nuisance of himself by throwing around dishes and being quite loud and obnoxious.

Now, this restaurant is located on the same block as Rehovot’s police headquarters and I assumed that the owner would call the police to remove this gentleman because I know that’s what would happen in similar circumstances in North America or Europe.

But that’s not what the restaurant owner chose to do.  Instead, she brought the gentleman a cup of coffee and talked to him respectfully and humanely, asking him if he was hungry or if he needed help getting home. He calmed down after a few minutes and all seemed under control, but when a waitress went to ask him again if he wanted that cup of coffee, he jumped up and grabbed the young woman by the shoulders.

As this restaurant was located on the main street in Rehovot, there were a lot of cars passing by. Several of the drivers saw what was happening on the patio, whereupon they jumped out of their cars, ran over and restrained the gentleman. When they had him in a bear-hug, they talked to him softly, telling him that he should never manhandle a woman like that and that he should just go home.

Those drivers weren’t worried about the gentleman possibly being armed or violent, they simply reacted reflexively to seeing a person in trouble, a vivid example of the courage that is so much a part of Israeli DNA. And even though a couple of those passersby were quite sizable, they used only the minimum force necessary to get the guy under control – a tempered, compassionate response to a potentially violent situation.

Another example of courage was the manner in which both the waitress and the owner dealt with this troubling individual. They didn’t offload the problem to the police and they didn’t abuse or disrespect the man.  When the incident was over, they didn’t seem even a little bit rattled. They just laughed it off and went back to work.

Can one event or one anecdote provide an accurate insight into a nation’s character? Perhaps not, but every single day we see how the Israelis deal with the constant threat of terrorism and how they treat people in distress. They are truly a people with a big heart and gigantic kahones, men and women alike.

When we got back to Canada, I asked my son what stood out for him about Israel, and he said without hesitation that it was the strength of the people. He couldn’t believe how they so fearlessly and exuberantly faced challenges that would have most of us whimpering in a dark corner somewhere. He also was very impressed with how the restaurant staff and the passersby dealt with a situation that would probably have unfolded very differently in Canada or the U.S.

I think too many of us in the Diaspora simply do not understand the enormous challenge Israel faces in maintaining the Jewish ideals of courage and compassion whilst contending with staggering obstacles and existential threats. We always seem to find fault with Israel’s political intrigues or religious conflicts, but what we should be doing is recognizing and celebrating the Israeli people’s staggering achievements and values.

I’m proud of my Jewish heritage, I’m proud to have been born in Israel, and I am enormously proud of how Israelis have built an exemplary society with equal parts of backbone and heart.

Article by Henry Roth

Henry Roth was born in Haifa and immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s. The son of Romanian Holocaust survivors, he has been married to Brenda for 43 years, is the father of two sons, Marc and David, the happy grandfather of Nicolas and a proud and loud Zionist.