Good morning to everyone here. I'd like to begin immediately, as always I do, by giving my sincere, sincere thanks to God above all else for sparing me whilst others would not, so that I might have the privilege of addressing myself to you here today.
In absentia I'd like to follow on by extending my sincere thanks to the soldiers alongside whom I have had the privilege of serving, both as a conscript and as a reservist, both in the past and in the more recent past, who have always put their hands into the smalls of my back and pushed me forward within my work in uniform and here in this suit and tie. And I'm sure you thank them as well.
I'd also like to make special mention today of the students that I have met throughout these United States on some 270 university campuses who have brought my message forward proudly and have stood the line time and again in the face of tremendous opposition. I commend you and I say hazak, hazk, v'nithazek, be strong and we will be strengthened.
My friends, I want to tell you of two particular stories that have shaped my life. The first story of which I speak took place in the year 1994 and it befell myself and three of my siblings. For as the four of us traveled toward the Jewish day school that we attended that was a two-and-a-half hour commute away from our home, my oldest brother Jonathan was suddenly and brutally attacked by a gang of seven thugs, by a gang of men -- not boys and not teenagers, but men. He was attacked simply because he was Jewish. He was assailed. He was head-butted. He was beaten unconscious. His eyes rolled back in his skull.
As all of this continued, my two younger siblings sought help but none was forthcoming. And as quickly as the doors upon which they knocked opened, they were closed because nobody wished to be so much as to be seen to be helping.
And as my dear brother Jonathan's body was permitted to fall to the ground, as these brutes and these thugs then proceeded to raise up bricks and throw them down upon his head and upon his abdomen, as they then stomped upon him and kicked him, as they pivoted left and right, as they got down on their knees in order to find a more advantageous position from where they could continue that attack, as they repeatedly pounded his head into the sidewalk, there was one sibling who stood by and did nothing and that was me. I stood by and did absolutely nothing for far too long.
And I stood by not because I was frozen by fear but rather because I was guilty of making a gross presumption, one that suggested in my own mind that these thugs would come to an understanding that enough was enough and that nothing further could be justified. I assumed that they operated by the code that I held dear to myself.
But it was the instructive cry of the ringleader to his followers to not stop until that Jew was dead that demonstrated to me that if I did not act immediately to protect Jonathan, I was going to rapidly arrive at a point where there was nothing left to defend. For on that day, those thugs had the intention of removing a Jew from the earth.
And so I finally was propelled to act and threw myself atop my brother. I was beaten in very similar fashion. I awaited the conclusion of that attack and stood up and looked over at Jonathan, who was a bleeding and bloody mess. I picked him up in my arms and I carried him to the school gates and then watched as an ambulance whisked him away to the closest hospital.
I begin by telling you of that story because I wish to be counted with you and to bring all of you to one understanding. You see, as a consequence of that attack, Jonathan's health began to deteriorate rather rapidly. And that deterioration in health culminated in three liver transplants that he had to undergo in the space of a single week.
So I've learned many lessons being a Jew from Europe, where that attack took place. I've learned many lessons as a soldier in Israel and I've learned many a lesson on your campuses. And paramount amongst those lessons would be this: In light of the dangers that Israel faces from both within and beyond her borders, whether it be Israel the country or Israel the people, for we friends of Israel to ever wait in order to defend ourselves is simply to await defeat.
And for us to ever allow ourselves to be intimidated by the great odds that stand before us is simply to usher in a far more terrifying prospect to come to pass. And we must ensure, quite simply, that that does not happen on our watch. That is all, plain and simple.
My friends, I could regale you today with stories of heroism and bravery in action, not in my name but in the name of the soldiers I've served alongside. I could do that, but I would rather bring to you one conversation that we have. During our journey into a war zone, we were immediately told on one occasion that we were to set about camouflaging each other's faces, precisely in the manner that we were taught to do so during basic training, to darken the bright parts of the face and to brighten the dull, to break the appearance of the human form.
It fell upon me to paint the face of a soldier named Dodi. He came from Tel Aviv. Not from contested territories; he came from Tel Aviv. But there he was in the midst of that war. Now, it may surprise some of you to learn this, but given that he was entering a combat zone, Dodi was frightened and he was breathing heavily.
I know because I could feel it on my fingertips as I applied the paint to his top lip. And as I did so, he fired at me the most chilling question I've ever been asked. He said, promise me, Ben, that if I die there you won't leave my body for them to take; promise me you'll bring my dead body back to Israel.
How many people here have ever had to ask a question such as that? Let alone at the age of 18. But our soldiers do. They have done so generation after generation and yet, knowing the horrors of war and all that it brings, they march forward. And they do so to defend Israel and, may I remind everybody here once more, Israel isn't just a country; it is also a people. And many of you are part of that people. And when we go forward, I assure you we go forward to defend all of you here, [Hebrew]. That is what we are here for.
And I do not -- I do not lament the existence of the Israel Defense Forces. I celebrate it and you should celebrate it with me.
My friends, in coming to a close, I wish not to speak about my time in uniform. I wish, rather, to speak of my time as a citizen in Israel. For in the final analysis, our soldiers are our citizens and our citizens are our soldiers.
During my time as a citizen of Israel, I regularly visit a school in the town of Sderot. You can go and see it; it's called the [Hebrew]. It's the School of Science and Talmudic Learning. It runs until the age of Bar mitzvah, age 13.
A few months ago I took a kindly donor to visit that school with me to see how she might be able to assist them in their plight. I interviewed there on an impromptu basis a young boy named Boaz, with a kippah upon his head that was far too big for him, with the Jewish fringes that run down far below his knee, as is often the case. And I asked him to recount for us how his day had been.
Without any hesitation he responded thus, and I'll translate immediately thereafter. He said, [Hebrew]. Boaz said, I woke up at 5:30 this morning. There was a red alert, a siren. Everybody panicked, but I don't worry anymore. I don't worry anymore because we have the Iron Dome system, which means nobody can hurt me. You tell me who can hurt me today.
So when you think of Iron Dome, my friends, think not of it in terms of smashing down rockets en route to Israel's citizens and towns. Think not of it as a destructive force of war. Understand that by in placing Iron Dome where it is, you do not destroy; you build a pathway towards a future for the children of the state of Israel. You bring calm to an uncertain region. You allow a mother to lay easily in bed at night once again, knowing that no harm will befall her children this night. That is the work of you.
That is the work of this organization. And I thank God for each and every one of you for so doing. Do not forget it.
And my final point is this. There is a reality that comes with war. The last time I was called to the line was to take part in a war that eventually ultimately never was, Operation Pillar of Defense. Now, I happened to be in New York the day I was called back to my unit. And I purchased a ticket. And there's a routine that soldiers undergo. You visit your home, you collect your kit bag, you make sure that you have your combat vest. And then, for the briefest of instants, you turn inward and you ask yourself silently, as every combat soldier must, am I still willing to die for this country?
My friends, I reported to that line some hours thereafter and I want you to know that standing by me on that line, 135 of the soldiers called to reserve duty reported, left their homes and came to defend the Jewish homeland. The reason this is so significant is because in this time of great confusion we are clear of one thing in the final analysis.
We fight, certainly, for democracy. We fight, certainly, for technological advance and innovation. We fight, certainly, because of our remembrances of the horrors of the Holocaust. But we fight primarily, and we forever will do, because of something else. We fight because, as is evinced and proven in every single prayer book on every bookshelf and every synagogue of every denomination, in every, town, city, country, continent where there's a synagogue, in whichever language those words are translated into, our people have always been sustained and yearned towards that land because we believe and know that it is the home of the Jewish people. And all that we fight for is worthy of being defended. Let us never, never forget that.
Be sustained always by the refrain [Hebrew]. God will bless; God will give his people strength; God will bless his people with peace. First comes strength. Peace will yet follow. You are that strength. I thank you and I pray for Shalom Chai Israel.
Thank you very, very much. Thank you.