What’s a Hero? 

Someone with a cape? Fancy superhero suit? Super powers beyond those of mortals?

Not really.

True heroes have feet of clay, like each of us.

True heroes struggle and fail, like each of us.

True heroes understand that – as circumstances change – so should our responses.

We all have our lists of heroes, and not of the “super” genre. Mine include people like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Each was a true hero, yet each was a flawed human being. What made them true heroes is that they were able to seize the opportunities presented and adjusted their own perspectives in order to achieve a greater good.

Israel has had it’s share of heroes. Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin were two such heroes. Each was a fighter. Yitzhak Rabin was the hero of the Six Day War. Menachem Begin lead the Irgun, in fighting the British and the Arabs to achieve independence. Both men understood the circumstances of their day. Begin welcomed Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem to begin a process that would lead to (a form of) peace with Egypt. Rabin would sign a peace accord with Yasir Arafat, which many still hope will be the foundation for a permanent peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Both were men who fought the enemy with a sword and embraced them later as partners.

Israel has lost another of its heroes, Ariel Sharon. For the vast majority of his life, Sharon was a fighter. And like Menachem Begin, he committed acts for which he was condemned. He was held to be personally responsible for permitting a horrendous massacre of up to 3,000 civilians in the Lebanese Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. At the same time, he was considered one of Israel’s greatest field commanders. When he retired and entered politics, Sharon was right-wing, hawkish in protecting every inch of Israel’s soil…unbending in trading land for peace. None of this made him a hero.

What turned a flawed human into an inspiring hero happened near the end of his career, before his debilitating stroke that left him in a vegetative state for 7 years. We will never fully understand what changed with Sharon. But we know that he pulled Israel out of Gaza, left Likud and formed Kadima, a right centrist political party, and was most likely preparing for a unilateral withdrawl from the West Bank. These actions would have created the de facto Palestinian state. What he did in Gaza was bold. What he might have done in the West Bank was even bolder. And what might have resulted, we can only imagine.

I never liked Ariel Sharon as a leader. However, I recognized that characteristic of heroism in him, shared by those whom I do admire. It was that ability to think differently about a situation…differently than others…differently than he used to…differently in order to make a difference. It will be generations before we know if pulling out of Gaza was brilliant or failed vision. And we will never know what might have been if he had pulled Israel out of the West Bank. But this we do know. Israel (and Jews) is never in a good place when we are forced to be oppressors…even if it is to defend ourselves. Yes, sometimes it is necessary. But it is never good. And Ariel Sharon understood that. Thus, he is a hero in my mind.

His lesson is ours, as well. We may not be individually responsible for the fate of our country or our people. Yet, each of us is responsible…to ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities. The question to ask is: Are we prepared to become heroes?

Are we willing to put aside our own egos, our own ways of looking at life’s issues and look again differently? Are we willing to make those difficult, sometimes unpopular, decisions that are for the better good (of ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities)? If we are, then we can become heroes as well.