Post 26: Danny

Danny Farahan Ben-David was the first person to look me in the eyes and see what no-one had yet seen: that coming to Israel to join the army was my calling.   I was then just 19, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Many were still convinced that my desire to join the army was a phase that would pass with time. But Danny looked past the heavy-drinking, party-going mask I then wore into the soul of that bright-eyed 19-year-old and saw what my friends and family were not yet willing to accept.  As he spoke to our group about his experiences in the army, my course set itself in my mind, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that finally come together to complete a picture.  My Zionism, my desire to do something more with my life then follow the path that was set for me as a well educated American Jew.  It all pointed to the IDF.  I saw in his eyes the pride of a man that had a dream and followed it, a pride notably absent from my life at that time.  While I did not yet know why I declined to try on his red beret, Danny told me that it was because I wanted to earn it, and God willing at the end of  May, I too will wear a red beret, as Danny did.  I typed Danny’s name into Facebook to see how he was doing last week, as I’ve done every so often for the past few years. I saw his current location set at Tel-Aviv, and began to type him a message, asking him if we could meet up and grab a drink or two. Or more, as was his style. As I began to type, I glanced at the comments below and my heart stopped.  At 28, with a fiance and a bright future in front of him, Danny left this world for the world to come.

I will always consider Danny my one true motivator for joining the IDF.   He was a hero to me as he was to many others.  For years I pestered him with questions about the IDF.  Our correspondences were steady throughout the time between my sophomore year of college and my move to Israel this July and beyond. At times he got back to me in days, and at times, when he was hiking the Appalachian trail, it took weeks, but he was always there for me to answer my questions, and when he didn’t have the answers, he referred me to those who did.  Questions about what it was like to join the army after college.  About what my friends and family would say. About the training and the tryouts.    I remember meeting him at the  Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem as clearly as if it was yesterday.  The thrill of listening to the stories of a real-life IDF paratrooper. The look of his neatly pressed uniform. His silver jump wings. His M-16. One day, I said to myself, I will earn those too. I’m on the way now, and not a milestone will go by when I won’t think of Danny’s motivational words, and his love for Israel and the Jewish people.  I’m not just doing it for myself now. I’m doing it for him, too. So that he can look down and know that one more paratrooper earned those wings and earned that beret because of his words and his inspiring example.  He will be forever in my heart and my thoughts. 


Danny Ben-Farahan. February 22, 2008.  12:34pm.

You want to know where you would “be doing the most good”. I think you are asking yourself the wrong question. The fact is this country needs fighters. Do you want to be one of them? It is easy to sit in America and go to conference after conference and talk about how important Israel is. It is easy to pat yourself on the back and say I did my part because I talked some irrelevant student on my campus into liking Israel more than the Palestinians. Conferences are fun (I know I used to go to them all the time). You get drunk with a whole bunch of other young people and love Israel together. The leaders in your community have made a concious decision to put Israel second. I am not saying they don’t care but they are not living in America for our well being here in Israel. Granted they talk to congress, they talk to the media, and they get America to support Israel. That is all nice, but the simple fact is they are living the good life for themselves not for us.

If you come serve in the army you are rejecting the foundation of their beliefs. The idea of finishing college and becoming a fighter instead of a lobbyist, lawyer, or grad student goes against their happy diaspora jewish existence. I know why you want to be a fighter. You are a man. Your country is under attack. You feel that you can help us fight the fight. It pains you to see missles fall on sderot. You would rather go into gaza and shoot a gun then lament how bad things are in Israel while sitting on your sofa in America. You would rather go into Jenin and put the handcuffs on the bombmakers hands than write a letter to your school paper. I know why you want to be a fighter. It is not very complicated. If you really want to do it, then do it. Tell your community it is what you have to do. Once you actually do it your community will be behind you 100%.

They will raise money for your unit and they will do all they can to live vicariously thru you. The road is long it is hard but it is worth it. The Gibush (tryout) for tzanchanim is hard, but if you want it then you will do it. All I can say is start running. The hardest thing is learning to run when you can’t walk anymore. But it is all in your head… I just finished my service last week. As I write these words my mother is sitting behind me. She told me to tell you that your mother will be worried and scared, but at the end of the day you don’t even know how proud of you she will be…



As an addendum, Daniel and I just got back from Jerusalem, where we spoke to a Birthright group about why we left our lives in America to come to Israel and join the army.  I’ve given dozens of speeches before, many as a non-profit speaker, but my only merits then were my knowledge of the subject matter and  my passion.  For the first time, my qualifications were based not only on my passion but on my motivation and on my actions. On my own blood, sweat, and tears. I felt incredibly proud as I stood there in my paratroopers uniform and addressed a group of people that were sitting where I had sat years ago when Danny spoke to my group about why he made his decision to come to Israel. As I spoke, without notes, directly from the heart, I realized that I was echoing many of the sentiments that Danny had shared with me four years earlier. I felt a powerful connection to Danny in that moment, almost as if he was there in that room with me. I hope he’s smiling with the knowledge that there are those who will continue to trade the “good life in America” for the life of a fighter in the Israeli Army. That there are those who will speak to audiences that he can no longer speak to, and remind them of why Israel is important; that it is the one and only country that we have, which is why we must fight to protect it.

Rest in Peace.



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