7. Natan Sharansky, Avital Sharansky, Ida Nudel and the former Russian Prisoners of Zion: The first political prisoner released under the old Soviet regime was Natan Sharansky who was jailed for 13 years on false charges of treason – when he was sentenced he showed his great courage when he said: “One would think I would be sorry, but I am not. I am happy because I have lived at peace with my conscience… I am happy that I helped people… I am happy to have witnessed the process of liberating Soviet Jewry. For more than 2,000 years, my people have been dispersed. Wherever Jews were, they would repeat every year, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.’ At present. I am as far as ever from my people … and many hard years … are in store for me. To my wife and my people, I can only say, ‘Next year in Jerusalem.”
This resiliency stayed with him throughout his many hard years in Soviet prisons – while his wife tirelessly campaigned worldwide for him. These unstoppable dissidents were active and determined to free the Jews of Russia. Ida Nudel is a brave tough Jewish activist who was called the “Guardian Angel” for her efforts to help the “Prisoners of Zion”, many of whom called her “Mama” and “angel of mercy”. Today, these Jews who weren’t allowed to leave the Soviet Union are the crème de-la crème of the Jewish people worldwide.
8. Sheldon Adelson: The richest Jew in the world, Adelson is famously resilient, stubborn and focused on winning. The son of Jewish immigrants, Adelson grew up lower-class, dropped out of the City College of New York – and has built one of the largest casino empires in the world. That was not easy, and the man has had to win many stare-downs as the mogul of Las Vegas. As a Jewish man he is the quintessential tough Jew who says his primary personal driving force is the survival of the United States and Israel in the face of an Iranian nuclear weapon – and he stands up and often speaks truth to power – no easy feat.
9. Benjamin (Ben) Brafman: The legendary criminal defense attorney whose grandparents were murdered in Auschwitz is the very epitome of a tough Jew. A proud Orthodox Jew, Brafman grew up on the mean streets of Crown Heights, and he came home with bruised knuckles almost every day. “Trouble would find you without you looking for it,” he has said. Brafman is the man you want in your corner in a street fight or battle of any sort – as “A tough sonofabitch.”The man put himself through Brooklyn College night school and then Ohio Northern University Law School – and is now the most well respected criminal defense attorney in the world – and is tremendously passionate about Jewish causes.
10. All of the Jews of Eretz Israel (especially Judea & Samaria): Living in Israel, a tough country in a tough neighborhood, makes one a tough and resilient people. Building the center of Jewish life in the center of the Jewish world has been the greatest challenge facing the Jewish people throughout history; Israelis are some of the toughest Jews.
Honorable mention: Chabad Emissaries worldwide (Can you imagine giving everyone who comes calling an invite to your home? This on top of death threats, and all the places Chabad faces danger), Jonathan Pollard (25 years in jail), Dr. Irving Moskowitz (ensures a united, undivided Jerusalem despite worldwide pressure), athletes like Yuri Foreman (how great it is to see a fighter with a Jewish star on his shorts win a world title), Mark Spitz and Omri Caspi, Rabbi Avi Weiss (has protested anti-Semites worldwide to great physical danger), Prime Minister Netanyahu (Former elite Israeli soldier – can anyone imagine how strong he has to be to counter Obama?), and of course the people we seldom hear of; mothers and fathers who raise families (including my valiant Mother Penny Waga), and individuals who channel their skills into making life better for others.
In the Torah, as Moses hands over the mantle to his successor he says two short yet inspiring words to this future leader, in Hebrew Chazak Ve-ematz – Be Strong and Have Courage. Be strong and have courage are the best words for any Jew to hear – The Jewish people of Israel live: Am Israel Chai.
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