With a resume boasting 34 years of battle, Major Gen. (Res.) Doron Almog preached a message of love during a recent visit to Pittsburgh.
Almog, who became chairman of the executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel in August, stopped in Pittsburgh before heading to Chicago the following day for the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. While in Pittsburgh, Almog met privately with local leaders and Israeli emissaries.
Joined by his wife, Didi, and representatives of the Jewish Agency, Almog attended the Oct. 27 commemoration in Schenley Park. While there, he spoke with family members of those murdered at the Tree of Life building four years ago.
“I'm coming to Pittsburgh from a place of love — loving my country, loving my Jewish people, loving the Jewish communities all over the world,” he told the Chronicle.
Heading the Jewish Agency positions Almog in a new global light; to Israelis, however, he’s been well-known for years. Almog was born in Rishon LeZion in 1951. After entering the IDF, he became a paratrooper and climbed the ranks of Israel’s most elite units. He fought in the Yom Kippur War; led paratroopers during the 1982 Lebanon War; commanded the Special Forces Shaldag Unit; and helped thousands of Ethiopian Jews evacuate Sudan. During the Second Intifada he oversaw the IDF Southern Command, including the Gaza border. He also was the first soldier to land on the tarmac at Entebbe during the dramatic hostage rescue, and was sent by Prime Minister Golda Meir to hunt down those who murdered 11 Jews during the 1972 Munich Olympics. He eventually retired from the military as a major general.
“Most of my life, I fought terror and antisemitism, but also I'm bereaved family,” he said.
Almog’s brother Eran, a tank commander, was killed during the Yom Kippur War. Decades later, five members of Almog’s family were murdered at the Maxim restaurant in Haifa during a suicide bombing. Almog and his wife are parents of three children. Their daughter Shoham was born with a heart defect and died when she was 1 month old; their son Eran, named for Doron’s brother, was born with autism and died of Castleman disease at age 23.
“I know what bereavement is,” he said. “I know what it is to live in a home that a loved one is absent, pictures on the wall, memories all over, great longing and always something missing in my life.”
Coming to Pittsburgh, attending the commemoration and speaking with families was a chance to “express my — our — grief, sorrow and pain in respect of the terror attack that took the lives of 11 Jews here in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018,” he said.
But there were other reasons for the visit as well.
Being here was a chance “not only to show empathy, but to empower and to encourage, [especially] to encourage myself,” he said. “I see the relationship between the state of Israel and any Jewish community in the world as a strategic importance for our existence.”
Before speaking with the Chronicle, Almog met with the Shinshinim and a staffer from Hillel JUC. Almog is aware of the generational differences regarding attitudes toward Israel.
According to a July 11 Pew Research Report, 56% of Americans under age 30 hold an “unfavorable” view of Israel.
It’s a “great challenge to attract the young generation,” Almog said. While the spirit and dedication of Israeli emissaries working in Pittsburgh gave him “a sense of optimism,” he said greater efforts must be made. From a global standpoint, “we must do much more in order to guarantee that the young generation is attracted to and understands more Judaism, knows more about Jewish education, is attracted to Jewish education and also feels the responsibility for Jewish existence.”
During decades of military service, Almog pledged to never leave a soldier behind. He still has that mindset.
“We don't have the privilege to lose even one Jew because of his choice, or because he thinks that the state of Israel is a bad idea or because he [heard] criticism of the state of Israel … Of course, the state of Israel is by many aspects controversial [among] our enemies, but it is a wonderful state; and for me, the state of Israel — the only Jewish state in the world — is a great pride for me.”
With a belief that relationships and attitudes are fueled by connections and personal experiences, Almog — a recipient of the 2016 Israel Prize — said each individual can effectuate tremendous change.
In memory of his son, Almog founded ADI Negev-Nahalat Eran. The southern-based center maintains “an intensive care hospital wing for babies and adults, a para-medical center, hydrotherapy pool, special education school, green care farm, therapeutic horse stable and petting zoo.” The residential and rehabilitative complex is home to more than 150 children and young adults.
Hearing the phrase “loved ones” during the Oct. 27 commemoration reminded Almog of his visits to the Israeli center.
“People who are suffering, in grief, in pain, what more can we do?” he asked. By answering that question, the singular English phrase “loved ones” can be elucidated, he continued. Whether aiding those requiring full dependence or helping people who appear seemingly strong, “you understand what is the power of love.”
What happened in Pittsburgh four years ago, “that terror came from hate,” Almog said. “But what is the opposite of hate? The opposite of hate is love. We need to spread more love in our world; and love starts with the slightest relationship between people, between you and your loved one. Love is the heart. Love is the smile. Love is to see the return and response of people around you to the actions you are taking.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.