April 12, 2019
AJC Global Forum is marked by high-level policy addresses, impassioned debates, and expert analysis on the most important issues facing the Jewish people, America, and the world.
But it is also an opportunity to draw hope from the remarkable individuals whose acts of bravery inspire our work throughout the year.
At AJC Global Forum, attendees are introduced to tales of inspiration and profiles of tremendous courage.
Here are just a few of the recipients of the AJC Moral Courage Award. Their moving stories continue to resonate today.
An Israeli Druze Who Gave His Life
Rinal Seef fought back tears as a room full of strangers rose to their feet to honor her late husband.
Just six months earlier, Sgt. Major Zidan Seef, 30, a traffic cop in Jerusalem, had raced to the Bnei Torah synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem where two Palestinian terrorists were slaughtering worshipers during morning prayers. One of the first on the scene, Seef fired the bullet that ended the attack, but lost his life when a terrorist turned on him.
For many attending Global Forum 2015, Rinal Seef’s tear-stained words about her husband’s sacrifice sent a profound message about dedication to Israel, its diversity and religious freedom, and the courage of first-responders in a country all-too-often the target of terrorists. Seef and her 11-month-old daughter Liren, traveled to Washington D.C. to accept the Moral Courage Award on behalf of her late husband.
“Without any hesitation, without any second thought Zidan heroically saved the lives of others while sacrificing his own.,” said Avital Leibovich, Director of AJC Jerusalem, who described meeting Seef’s 21-year-old widow later. “I was struck by her very strong dedication to the state of Israel and the people of Israel, regardless of race, religion, or color.”
Seef emphasized that “the covenant between the Druze people and the Jewish people is a covenant of life and death and cannot be broken.”
“We the Druze people are an integral part of the State of Israel and feel a sense of belonging to the State,” she said. “Our partnership with the Jewish people is eternal."
The Muslim Shop Clerk Who Saved Jews in Paris
Lassana Bathily walked on stage wearing a bow tie and a shy smile. He trembled nervously before the Global Forum audience, as those presenting him with the 2015 Moral Courage Award showered him with praise.
“Our rabbis teach that one who saves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire world,” said Alexis Azria of AJC Paris. “For every life contains within it the potential for countless generations to come. Lassana, you saved 15 worlds that day in Paris that day in January. In doing so you made this world, our world a brighter more hopeful, more humane world.”
Bathily was working at the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket on Friday, January 9, 2015 when jihadists entered the market and began shooting at shoppers preparing for Shabbat. Bathily ushered terrified customers into a cold storage room, turned off the refrigeration system and locked them inside, before escaping the store and helping police end the siege.
“What I did was place people out of danger and ensure their safety—something everybody can do when they find themselves in such an extreme situation,” Bathily told the crowd. “If it were to happen again tomorrow, I would do exactly the same thing because, for me, this is a normal and humane response.”
Since his act of bravery, Bathily has received French citizenship and has written a book. But he also has not stopped standing up against antisemitism. Last year, Bathily sat in the back pew at the Tournelles Synagogue to honor Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor who was stabbed and burned in her Paris apartment by a Muslim neighbor and accomplice. Knoll had survived the 1942 mass arrest of Jews by French police working for the Nazis.
“We cannot give in to fear and blackmail, Bathily told Global Forum attendees. “We must react, stand together and resist.”
He Refused to Leave His Jewish Passengers Behind
When Palestinian and German terrorists told pilot Michel Bacos he could leave with the other non-Jewish passengers and crew from his hijacked Air France flight, he chose to stay.
“When you take the responsibility of an Air France captain, you don’t leave your passengers behind,” his son Jean-Claude told the audience at Global Forum 2016 when the elderly Bacos received the Moral Courage Award. “When you are facing the unacceptable wall separating Jewish from non-Jewish, he decided to take his name off the free hostage list, which meant two days later the high probability of execution.”
Bacos, who died last month in Nice, France, was forced by terrorists in June 1976 to divert his Air France jet and its 252 passengers and crew to Entebbe, Uganda. When hijackers freed the 148 passengers who were neither Jewish nor Israel, the plane’s crew was also invited to leave. Bacos refused to go. Though he did not command his crew to stay with him, they did. To do otherwise, would have been “unimaginable,” he once said.
“From this point of no return, from this point of very little hope we need to acknowledge the incredible courage of the Israeli commandos,” his son said.
Bacos’ son said his father was honored to share the award Tzvi Har-Nevo, the lead navigator for Operation Entebbe and all of the soldiers watching the ceremony live from Tel Aviv. He embraced Har-Nevo for saving his father and the other hostages.
Har-Nevo said he hopes Israel will never have to perform such a miracle mission again.
“That night God stepped down from this throne and carried us in his hand from Entebbe back home.”
Watch Highlights from 2018
The Indian Nanny Who Saved Mumbai Chabad’s Youngest Resident
Sandra Samuel has not let go of Moshe Holtzberg.
Hired to take care of Moshe when he was born, the Indian Catholic woman could have abandoned the 2-year-old boy when the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai was raided by Pakistani terrorists in November 2008. Instead the nanny picked up the boy and ran amid gunfire.
His parents Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg and four other Jews were murdered. But Moshe lived.
When the orphaned boy went to live with his grandparents in Israel, Samuel left her own family behind and followed. Soon after, she became an Israeli citizen. A decade after the attacks, she received the 2018 AJC Moral Courage Award during the Global Forum in Jerusalem, where she lives and takes care of disabled children.
“I believe that the love and trust shown to Moshe boy and me from all of you present today is my greatest reward,” she told the Global Forum audience. In addition, I would like to thank the Israeli government for granting me citizenship so I can stay in Israel close to my Moshe boy as long as required. I love this country with all my heart, as this is the holiest place for me.”
He Was a Danish Synagogue’s Volunteer Security Guard
When Dan Uzan volunteered to guard his Copenhagen synagogue during a young woman’s bat mitzvah in February 2015, her mother told him she was glad it was him standing watch.
Later that night, Uzan gave his life when a terrorist opened fire outside the Jewish center, saving the more than 80 children inside.
AJC presented its Moral Courage Award posthumously to Uzan at its 2015 Global Forum. His best friend, sister and parents traveled to Washington D.C. from Copenhagen to accept the award.
“The fact that AJC, situated in Washington D.C., 3528 miles from Copenhagen, has thought of Dan and chosen to honor him warms our broken hearts and our gratitude can’t be expressed by words,” his sister Andrea Uzan told the Global Forum audience.
Uzan said her 6’5” brother, known as a gentle giant, respected everyone, regardless of race or religion. He knew there was no place for hate and ignorance in the world. He also knew what a big difference a small gesture could make, she said.
“He always gave them a warm smile and a few words on their way and often greeted people by opening his long arms and giving them a big warm embrace – an embrace full of trust, respect, love and protection.”