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Entering the mind of a man endowed with talent and strong will is a fascinating journey. The reader is introduced to the personality of Yoni Netanyahu in a most open fashion by reading his letters. That the author of these letters is a man blessed with the skill of forthright expression makes it easier to understand Yoni Netanyahu. As I read the book I could almost feel his joys, agonies, and the strength of his will to contribute to the world he lives in, in general, and the state he loves, in particular. To be fair, in this book a plot is missing. Faced with the collection Yoni's letters arranged chronologically, the reader is deprived of the order that can be found in the usual storyline, and must do without the stage, props, and other fiction employed by most novelists to enhance a plot. What is offered to the reader instead is an open book, the man as he is. The reader is left free to trace the natural growth in the personality of Yoni as he and his relationships age. No painted canvas is offered as background to character and events aside from the course of history as witnessed and acted upon by an elite soldier in Israel's army.
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One plausible reason for the serious level of Jew-hatred in anti-
Israel Arab countries(see for example,Palestinianmediawatch.com),is because if some of their
troops were aware of who they were messing with,they would think at least twice about fighting the Jewish army and there can be no more powerful document of the Israeli army they are fighting-rather than the Israeli army,they've demonized than 'Self-Portrait'. Yoni's letters to his family-from 1963-1976-he wrote his last one in the book to his girlfriend on June 29,five days before the July Fourth Entebbe raid which he led -and for which he died at 30- the only Israeli military victim.General Shlomo Gazit had this to say following the Entebbe operation(p.297-298)"...The IDF operation at Entebbe was a brilliant military victory,reflecting imagination,daring,courage and professional skill of the highest quality anywhere in the world.The success of the main objective-storming the terminal building,wiping out the captors and guards and speedily liberating the hostages so that nearly all of them remained unharmed-this success must be credited in decisive measure to the commander of the force who planned,prepared and rehearsed the breakthrough-that is ,to the credit of Yoni.Perhaps it may be said paradoxically that precisely the success of the operation after Yoni was hit and did not live to see its extraordinary conclusion testifies,more than anything else,to the extent to which he prepared the force for its mission,to its precise and meticulous execution,so that it could be completed flawlessly even without its commander..It is of course, difficult to know how Yoni would have continued and what height he would have reached in whatever course he would have followed-military or academic.But whatever that course might have been,we have all lost one of the most wonderful,promising and outstanding young men of Israel."
I first read this collection of letters when I was 18 years old and was totally entranced by Yoni's style, the imagery he evoked, and his sense of connection with the vast memory of the Jewish people--all in translation from Hebrew to English, with little or none of the literary impact lost. He wrote of the beauty and wonder of Israel, of the day-to-day struggle to defend his country, and of his own hopes and doubts and dreams, and he did so in a way that binds you to him. He loves Israel intensely, believes passionately in the idea of Israel, yet he is also keenly aware of Israel's challenges, not only from outside but from within. Yoni befriends you and becomes part of you in these letters. In the past several years, I finally made it to Israel and volunteered with the Israel Defense Force and brought "Self-Portrait" with me, walking the same streets, climbing the same hills, even helping out at one of the bases where Yoni was stationed. From experience, I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to you, for it is real and it is moving and it will help you to comprehend the wonder of Israel.
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"...I don't think he wore his rank insignia...word spread our commanding officer had arrived...I don't remember what he said, but I remember the spirit...He was not merely a commanding officer but an educator-a great educator I believe".
My favorite accounts of his bravery under fire are the ones listed in the last chapter "From the Yom Kippur War to operation Jonathan (1973-1976)".
Another soldier recalled the first contact with the enemy on the Golan Heights in October 1973 on Yom Kippur:
"We were standing on the road looking for the enemy when suddenly heavy fire was opened on us, killing one of our officers...I was very frightened. What I saw then was a picture I'll remember all my life: suddenly I saw Yoni stand up quite calmly, as if nothing had happened...he signaled to the men to get up...he began to go forward as if it were a firing exercise...he walked upright giving orders...I remember my thoughts then as his soldier: Hell, if he can do it, so can I!"
I love this account given by his second-in-command in 1973 and his deputy at Entebbe airport in Uganda:
"Yoni conducted a battle the likes of which I've not come across even in the books...the Syrians were firing at us...I shouted to Yoni to cover us...but before I could move, Yoni had taken his men and in a matter of seconds stormed the place...And the picture I always remember is that of Yoni running ahead of 8 men and destroying the enemy force...This was a classic example of leadership under fire with relatively small losses."
Reading this for me was a real treat, stumbled upon this reading an Amazon friend's review. Would like for my nephews to read this. His life and attitude are truly inspirational, a great role model for youth.Read more ›
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