Let's commit to work toward our common goal: A nation where all of us are winners, all of us have shelter, food and education.

Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday. To honor him, July 18 was declared Mandela Day by a unanimous vote at the UN in 2008. And yesterday was Hannah Senesh’s birthday. It seems that I have a pattern of reflecting on events that are a day apart.

Mandela has always been one of my heroes. I cannot understand how he maintained his dignity, his political awareness, his passion, his commitment and his hope during 27 years of incarceration, mostly in solitary confinement. Somehow he emerged from that imprisonment ready to lead his country, South Africa, with forgiveness of his captors and oppressors at the core of his vision for building a new nation. Unbelievable and completely inspiring. He was fierce and gentle, a warrior for peace and compassion and justice.

Hannah Senesh in a British uniformHannah Senesh was a Jewish girl born July 17, 1921 in Budapest. In 1939, at 18, Senesh emigrated alone to the British protectorate of Palestine. She joined the Jewish underground and could have safely stayed far from the carnage in Europe, but she felt she had to go back and try to help. She joined the British armed forces and was trained as a paratrooper with the mission of returning to Europe to work with the Resistance and help the Allies, and also with the hope of rescuing her mother. A few months after successfully parachuting in, she was captured by Hungarian police and tortured for days, without ever revealing any information. Condemned to death for treason, she was executed by a firing squad. She refused to wear a blindfold and looked into her executioner’s faces. She was 23 years old. One of her most famous poems is, “Blessed is the Match.”

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honour’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame

Both Senesh and Mandela risked everything to fight for dignity for all people.

As I was writing, Roz called me over to see something our friend, the incredible choreographer, Carolyn Dorfman, just posted on Facebook. It’s a beautiful video about Ahmad Joudeh, a Syrian man, who always felt he had to dance—despite everything his family did to discourage him, despite Syria being at war–invaded by two terrorist groups—Al Qaeda and Isis. Both groups threatened his life more than once, for dancing. Joudeh had the back of his neck tattooed in the very spot where the terrorist executioners decapitate people. The sentence, in Arabic, reads “Dance or die.” A Dutch filmmaker researching dance in Syria saw something about Joudeh on Facebook and wanted to tell his story. You’ll have to watch this clip to find out what happened. But let’s just say I’m ending with an upbeat story. And, as it turns out, there is again the theme of the power of the arts to convey the stories—through poetry and dance.

What to do with all of this information? On Mandela Day, we are all encouraged to
“Take action. Inspire change. Make every day a Mandela Day.” Their website has plenty of suggestions. https://www.mandeladay.com/

More information about Hannah Senesh courtesy of the Holocaust Memorial and Education Resource Center of Florida

February 22, 1943 – Hannah Senesh

This is the video about Joudeh that so moved me.

Article about Joudeh in The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/mar/13/its-dance-or-die-the-ballet-dancer-forbidden-to-perform-by-islamic-state

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