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5 Inspiring, Jewish Responses to Tragedy

5 Inspiring, Jewish Responses to Tragedy

These real people exemplify five Jewish responses to dealing with adversity.


Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: Choose Life

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: Choose Life

On January 8, 2011, a week into her third term, Gabrielle Giffords was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the head in Tucson, Arizona. 13 people were injured and six others were killed in the shooting. She was forced to leave a career that she loved, spending the last three years in extensive physical therapy. Giffords still has difficulty speaking and walking, and her right arm is mostly paralyzed.

Giffords marked the 3 year-anniversary of the shooting by going skydiving. Giffords said on an interview with The Today Show, explaining her jump, “I’m alive!” Giffords may not be Jewish, but her attitude exemplifies to Torah’s mandate to “Choose life” (Deut. 30:19).

Bart Stern: Help Others

Bart Stern: Help Others

Bart Stern, a Holocaust survivor, told of the time a man in Auschwitz was robbed of his daily ration of bread. Because of the starved and emaciated state of concentration camp inmates, this was tantamount to a death sentence. So Bart – also starving – gave the man some of his own bread.

After the war, Bart moved to Los Angeles. He would stand on the street corner every morning to watch the kids on their way to Jewish day school. He said: "After the war, my greatest joy is to see happy, free Jewish children."

Bart said, "I think I survived Auschwitz for a reason, and I am going to dedicate the rest of my life to help connect young people to their Jewish heritage. For decades, and well into his 70s, this slightly built man with a thick European accent (not exactly the type you'd expect to hang out with the Southern California youth), would literally walk the streets of Los Angeles on Shabbos and shlep young people in for a Shabbos meal. On Rosh Hashanah evening, he would invite 30 people, and if there were another 15 that didn't have a place, Bart said, "Send them too."

Auschwitz didn't make him bitter. It made him better.

Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen: Focus on the Positive

Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen: Focus on the Positive

Dr. Rahamim Melamed-Cohen, a pioneer in special education in Israel, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and told he had three to five years left to live. That was 18 years ago. Today he is completely paralyzed; he can only move his eyes. Using a computer that is operated through eye movement, Rahamim has written over 12 books, creates works of art and communicates with people from all over the world. “There really is no place for self-pity,” he says. “Don't despair. Be optimistic and work on joy in your heart. No matter what you're lacking think of what's possible to do in your present situation. These are the most beautiful years of my life.”

Sherri and Seth Mandell: Transform Tragedy into Good

Sherri and Seth Mandell: Transform Tragedy into Good

On May 8, 2001, Koby Mandell and a friend, Yosef Ishran, took off from school to hike in a canyon close to their home in Tekoa, a settlement in the West Bank. Koby and Yosef were found bludgeoned to death with stones, an act attributed to Palestinian terrorists. “We were determined to create something out of the tragedy of Koby’s death,” Seth Mandell said. He and Sherri, his wife, founded the Koby Mandell Foundation in their son's memory, running healing programs for families and widows that have been directly affected by terror in Israel. The Foundation sponsors Camp Koby, its flagship program, for children that have lost a parent or a sibling in an act of terror.

The Israel Defense Forces: Take Responsibility

The Israel Defense Forces: Take Responsibility

(Photo Credit: Joe Shalmoni,

The Israel Defense Forces takes the Jewish mission to be “a light unto the nations” very seriously, offering humanitarian aid to devastated spots around the world hit with enormous disasters. From the 2010 7.0 earthquake in Haiti to the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, the IDF is often the first to arrive on the scene, saving lives with a state-of-the-art hospital comprised of hundreds of doctors, nurses and rescue workers.

With thanks to Breindy Lazor

January 25, 2014

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 19

(10) Mary, January 30, 2014 11:34 PM


It is always difficult to see problems as opportunities for growth; events in one's life as a chance to serve G-d better and to use the abilities that one has in the service of Hasshem. To serve others and to lend the gifts that one has been given to help others is to obey Torah and to serve the one who gave one these gifts. Thank you for these wonderful examples.

(9) Raphael, January 29, 2014 7:46 PM

Keep in mind...

that Judaism holds every human being, Jewish or not, to be infinitely precious. Notice where the Israeli doctors in the article have gone. Haiti and the Philippines aren't exactly bastions of Jewish life. Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the "Alter of Slabodka," who lived and taught in prewar Europe and Israel, focused his ethical lectures on "gadlus ha'odom," the intrinsic greatness of every human being.

(8) Kate Martin, January 27, 2014 6:43 AM

Gratitude in a time of loss

This morning my father passes away. I have been finding ways to find solace. I found your website when I was doing some research about Judaism yesterday and have found it has offered me some rich grounding for spiritual truths in a time of loss. Thank you for these inspiring stories and it is good to remember that we are not alone Shalom Kate

Bagel Jew, May 21, 2014 3:05 AM


May you be comforted among the other mourners of Zion and Yerushalyim.

(7) Michal, January 26, 2014 9:01 PM

It makes me feel ashamed, when I think about myself.

There are hardnesses in my life, when I compare them with others and what they do, are tiny. Neverthelesse I often feel sorry for myself, Mitlonenet...
What I read here, gives me a push, to walk forward and smile.

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