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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Comparative Heroism 101

I'm feeling the need just now to do a bit of deflecting. 

Some of the comments from yesterday, as well as a few over-enthusiastic entries from blog buddies, seem bent on making me out to be something that I am not. 

Therefore, for the sake of a little perspective, I think a brief lesson in 'Comparative Heroism' might be in order.

Please find your seats and take out your notebooks:

Just as there are higher and lower levels of charity*, there are also higher and lower levels of heroism.

The events I described in my birthday post (and yesterday), while they might have been personally satisfying, fall well to the lower end of the heroism scale. 

By this I mean that I didn't go looking for someone to save or learn a skill that would place me in a position to be of help in an emergency. These people literally came to me and asked to be saved!  OK, maybe they figuratively asked to be saved, but the point is that I didn't go looking for them... rather, I waited for the opportunity to come to me before acting.

Clear so far? Good.

At the other end of the heroism spectrum are those who go looking for opportunities to prevent tragedies and for people in need of saving. These are people who have deliberately positioned themselves in life to maximize the possibility of doing good deeds.  Medical professionals fall into this category... as do police, firefighters, crisis counselors and social workers (to give a hopelessly abbreviated list).   They have all placed their lives on the path most likely to allow them to catch the falling bodies.

As luck would have it, I just happen to have the perfect illustration of this highest form of heroism to show the class today:  I'd like to draw your attention to my friend Noa.

Noa woke up one day about half way through a fancy Law degree and realized that she wasn't headed where she wanted to end up.  Despite staggering student loans and the inevitable pressure from family and friends, she dropped out of law school, packed her bags and moved to Israel. 

Noa has just finished her first year of nursing school at Hadassah.

If I stopped right there, Noa would be comfortably ensconced at the higher end of the hero scale.  Why?  because she changed her life's trajectory and is now nicely positioned to intercept and reverse the tragedies as they occur. 

But the lesson doesn't stop there.

In the process of rearranging her life, Noa gave the heave-ho to a relationship that wasn't going where she wanted it to go, and began dating a prince of a guy named Bryan.  She found out just how closely Bryan shared her values when he nearly stood her up on one of their early dates when he was called away by the Israeli bone marrow registry as a likely match for someone in need. 

Noa was familiar with this sort of heroism because her sister had already saved a woman's life by donating bone marrow.   I suppose it makes a certain amount of sense that heroes would tend to gravitate towards one another.

As luck would have it these heroes, Noa and Bryan, are getting married in a couple of weeks. 

It warms my heart that two such wonderful people have found each other and decided to place their lives on the same trajectory.  But what is even more impressive to me is how they intend to begin their life together:

Noa and Bryan have decided to turn their wedding into a bone marrow drive. 

Noa arranged for two of the best phlebotomists (a fancy word for the people who draw blood) at Hadassah Hospital to be on hand at the reception, and the bride herself will be the first to sit down and have her blood drawn. Zahava and I intend to be right behind Noa in line with our sleeves rolled up!

Ironically, in planning the wedding Noa decided to eschew red wine because she didn't want to risk staining her wedding gown.  I guess this is an indication of her trust in the people with the needles.  :-)

So class... to review:  If one happens to be standing on a curb when someone absent-mindedly tries to walk in front of a speeding vehicle, and a reflexive grab allows a life to be saved, this could arguably be called heroism... albeit heroism of a lower order. 

If one happens to be on a ship at sea when a bunch of people literally float past in need of being plucked from the water, this too could be called heroism, although to be honest, this is really akin to 'arm chair heroism' (i.e. let the victims come to you).

However, when two people charter a boat and set sail for a place where people in distress are known to have been sighted... that is heroism of a different order!  How much more so when those two people invite their family and closest friends along on the ship to take part in the rescue?

May the good ship S.S Noa & Bryan be blessed with smooth seas, a following wind and a lifetime of teaching by example about the true meaning of heroism.

Any questions?  Good... class dismissed.

* The lowest form of charity (according to Maimonides) is when one is asked to give and then gives grudgingly to someone right in front of him/her... and the highest is when one seeks out a worthy cause and gives both cheerfully and anonymously.


Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2005 | Permalink


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Along the lines of what you wrote David, I believe that the Jews who have recently left their homes and moved Gush Katif are also heroes.

I am ashamed to say that I don't know if I have this level of mesiras nefesh.

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Jun 29, 2005 2:36:14 PM

well put David. What I took from your story yesterday was the 'feelings' that you must have had to be able to be there at the right time to help. I know these feelings - they are not heroism per se(aka running into a burning building cliche sorta thing) they are what truly gives us our humanity. They are what wells us with emotion, because of being there to be a part of something so much bigger than we are alone. Like so many stories that came out of the Sunami - regular folks washed into situations where they reached out to eachother.
Those stranded refugees were blessed that you guys floated by, but so were you - blessed, to be there to help.

Posted by: lisa | Jun 29, 2005 3:23:06 PM

Nice lesson, Professor. Noa will have her wedding guests phlebotomized before or after they've drunk excesively and danced for hours? Maybe have some more nurses from Hadassa standing by.

Mazal tov!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jun 29, 2005 4:35:37 PM

I agree, but don't pooh-pooh your heroism so much! What Noa & Bryan are doing is amazing.

Posted by: Essie | Jun 29, 2005 4:49:21 PM

Not to be technical, but according to the Rambam (Maimonadies), the level of giving anonymously & cheerfully is the second to the highest level. The highest level is helping a person help themselves, by providing them with a job, loan, etc.

That said, excellent post!

Posted by: Mike Miller | Jun 29, 2005 5:08:21 PM

You're too modest, David. (Not to take anything away from what Noa and Bryan are doing.)

Yes, you have a point. I, too, would happily save someone's life in some of the circumstances you describe.

But the boat story had an additional twist. You mention that you were quarantined, because you might have been exposed to communicable diseases.

When you volunteered to be one of the people who played a hands-on role, you put yourself in harm's way. Thus went up a notch on the heroism scale.

Not everyone would do the same.

Posted by: Q | Jun 29, 2005 5:09:59 PM

A simple Jew... We'll have to agree to disagree on this point. A compelling argument can be made in recognition of the suffering the residents of Gush Katif are enduring during this difficult time. When they moved there they were told by their government that they were protecting the borders and that they represented the very best of Israel's pioneering spirit. Yet the government now portrays them as crazy religious zealots who stand firmly in the way of both peace on progress. TO endure that and also be forced out of communities that were built from nothing... that must be unbearable. But the hangers-on who are arriving now... I have no patience or sympathy for them. Where were they last year... 5 years ago... 10 years ago? If all the people driving around with orange ribbons on their cars had moved to Gush Katif back then, there would be no question of giving it to the Palestinians. Those that are going now are simply making the process more painful (and potentially more dangerous) for the participants on both sides of the disengagement struggle.

Lisa... Ahhhh... you get it. Thank you!

Doctor Bean... Actually they only have to take one or two CCs of blood for the test. No need to change any eating, drinking or dancing plans. :-)

Essie... I wish you knew them... they are really so much more special than I was able to convey.

Mike Miller... OK, I knew someone was going to call me on that one, but for the purposes of parallel construction it didn't work as well. :-) Thanks, though.

Q... Timing is everything. As one of the ship's rescue swimmers I was an obvious choice to go over the side since we had practiced such things many times in 'man-overboard' drills. Also, we weren't told that we would be quarantined until after we had already come into contact with the refugees. By your definition, I suppose I was a Forest Gump sort of hero... unwittingly being pushed by fate and events to be in the right place at the wrong time. :-)

Posted by: David | Jun 29, 2005 5:22:56 PM

D'oh! That's right, you're not donating blood; you're just having a lab test to get your bone-marrow type. My bad. Can I make it up with extra credit, Professor?

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jun 29, 2005 6:04:57 PM


Without people like you donating of themselves the Sox would still be a second rate team that hadn't won a World Series in forever and was going to take that long to do it again.

Fortunately for the world it will take a billion similar actions to bring the Celtics back into contention.

You did good.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 29, 2005 6:09:57 PM

See you on line - then I'll be off to the bar....

Posted by: gil ben mori | Jun 29, 2005 6:43:33 PM


Seriously, while I know that deep, deep, down, David truly appreciates all your accolades (oohs and ahs and all), BUT! you must know that such demonstrative expressions leave him squirming in discomfort!

I sit here in the office next to him, watching him blush to the roots of what-is-left-of-his-hair as he reads each one of your kind, warm and generous thoughts. To know and love David, as I most definitely do, is to accept that he occassionally shares extremely personal moments of his life in a rare show of trust with folks he considers his friends all the while praying in earnest that they won't notice what he's said or blow it out of what he considers the proper proportion.

So, a word to the wise: if you want to keep these tidbits coming.... pipe down a bit and don't go all autograph-hungry on him, and he might just continue to share!

Posted by: zahava | Jun 29, 2005 9:07:10 PM

Any questions? Good... class dismissed.

* The lowest form of charity (according to Maimonides) is when one is asked to give and then gives grudgingly to someone right in front of him/her... and the highest is when one seeks out a worthy cause and gives both cheerfully and anonymously.

Actually, the highest form of charity is to make sure that the recipient becomes self supporting as in arranging for him to get a livelihood and career.

Posted by: Sabba Hillel | Jun 29, 2005 9:16:59 PM

BUT! you must know that such demonstrative expressions leave him squirming in discomfort!

Oy Zahava, telling me that is like telling me that there are free donuts at the Krispy Kreme, it makes it so hard to resist.

But in the interest of keeping our man happy let's shift the conversation back to something less sensitive, like the best recipe to use for making chopped liver while sporting a Farty-far. ;)

Posted by: Jack | Jun 29, 2005 9:27:40 PM

Zahava: Come on. He's the Mensa member! What does he expect when he posts stories of saving lives, and serving food to soldiers, and volunteering to donate bone marrow? Hate mail?

If he's hankering for more ridicule, suggest he write about spraying coffee all over his car's interior again!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Jun 29, 2005 10:30:18 PM

Doctor Bean... No harm done. I suspect that whenever I've gotten vials and vials of blood drawn for tests that they really only use a few drops anyway... the rest is 'just in case'. :-)

Jack... I wouldn't be messin' with karma if I were you. Our teams are a little too close in the standings for you to be getting all smug on me. :-)

Gil... I'll join you.

Zahava... Any other secrets you'd like to share??? For the record, that was a rhetorical question.

Sabba Hillel... I've already been taken to task over that by an earlier commenter. As I told him, my only excuse is that the parallel construction worked so much better the way I wrote it. :-) Thanks.

Jack... for the record, the Glock 19c is a 9mm.

Doctor Bean... Clearly I don't humiliate myself nearly often enough to suit some of my readers. I'll try to work a few more pratfalls into the rotation. :-)

Posted by: David | Jun 29, 2005 11:00:58 PM

Jack... for the record, the Glock 19c is a 9mm.

David, the line is much better when delivered by Clint:

I know what you're thinking: "Did he fire six shots, or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But, being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya punk?

Posted by: Jack | Jun 29, 2005 11:52:46 PM

Wow- my recent wedding crisis (see today's entry) left me behind on my blog readings, so I haven't seen this until now. David, you have way over-exaggerated (how's that for superfluous usage?) everything about us - we're not heroes. We're just looking for a way to keep our wedding guests entertained while we do the yichud room/pictures thing. We just thought hey - we'll have 300 people on hand, with nothing to do while we take pictures, so lets have them do something useful.

I'm really touched (I just called Bryan and read him the posting with tears in my eyes) that you think so much of us, but really I bet if other people thought of the idea they'd do it too! I mean, if one person finds their bone marrow match because of this drive, we'll be ecstatic, but the donors are the true heroes. We're just God's little matchmakers - trying to help in finding a shidduch!

Posted by: Noa | Jun 30, 2005 9:01:28 AM

Noa... Your idea is such a simple, yet wonderful way to not only repair the world (tikun olam), but it gives people who wouldn't have thought of the idea an opportunity to be heroes as well. I really hope your idea catches on.

As nice as it is when I hear about people renting flowers and centerpieces from charitable organizations for their weddings, I think you and Bryan have created a fantastic potential 'gift registry' that requires no checkbook... and which can potentially last a lifetime.

Say what you want, but you guys are my heroes.

Posted by: David | Jun 30, 2005 11:50:11 AM

Noa rocks!

Posted by: Moc | Jun 30, 2005 4:35:53 PM

Likely the closest I will ever be to being a hero will come from donating blood. And more recently doing apheresis.
I am on a bone marrow registry (and I'm reasonably certain the information is shared amond all registries.) About a year after submitting for the first test; I received a letter informing to go for a second tests. I guess that I matched enough of the factors from the first test. I haven't heard anything from the registry since then. If I were asked I would do all I could but since the chances are so small that I'd be a match I'm likely to spend most of my time waiting.

Posted by: David Gerstman | Jul 4, 2005 5:40:15 AM

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