Can a Smile Unite Us? by Tom Raz – Israel

In the summer of 2007, when I was 16 years old, I said goodbye to my family and flew with my classmates all the way to Poland to see the horror of what racism and discrimination can cause. For those who aren’t familiar with this subject, when WWII began, the Nazis planned to get rid of all the Jews from Germany and in general from earth just because they were Jews. The Nazis decided that Poland was a  near enough site to execute their plan on the “Jewish issue” and came up with the “Final Solution” which was supposed to wipe out all the Jews from the Earth without any exceptions.  A human abomination called the Holocaust happened. It is the biggest genocide that occurred in the history of humankind and as I wrote said before,it took place on Poland’s land. As the grandchildren or survivors, we went to Poland on purpose to see and hear from first hand Holocaust survivor testimony on how it happened and to make sure that pure evil among the human race would not be repeated ever again. When I got back to Israel, my dad picked me up from the airport and we drove immediately to the hospital because Noy, my little sister, was hospitalized. I was emotionally exhausted from the journey, so I went to nap for a couple of hours. When I woke up, the doctor just entered the room to tell us the news: Noy was diagnosed with a violent and rare cancer called “neuroblastoma” and she was at the most advanced stage of the disease. At that moment, I realized that I came back from being an observer of the Holocaust occurrence to becoming a soldier in my own tragedy. My private battle had begun. In life-threatening situations there are only two options: fight or flight. The family had to decide: will the tragedy make us stronger or break us apart? As you can probably imagine, it’s not easy for a 7 year old girl to fight for her life, but she did! Every minute, every day, with a huge smile upon her face and determination as her motor. We chose to gather and fight as a family, to fight as hard as we possibly could because life is stronger than anything else and hope is the most crucial factor, especially in dark days like that! My parents knew that high morals were a necessity for her health, they kept making her lips work so hard on smiling every time they could. Money wasn’t an issue any more, not because we had an extra money, but because of the understanding that money was just a mean to reach our goals and nothing more. We did every activity we could think of, experiencing both personal and family development. We climbed mountains, rode on horses, motorcycles, ATV’s and much more, and basically made sure that the flame continued to burn and the smile wouldn’t fade away. We fought for almost 4 years, committed to the task together as brothers in arms, smiling through pain and suffering because there was nothing else we could do but hope. There is no greater healing power than love, so we gave our heart! It felt that as long as we could stay together, we would be invincible and could get through everything that was on our way… including cancer. My parents traveled to Australia for their honeymoon, and so when Noy was asked what  her dream was, with uncompromising stubbornness, she responded that she wanted to “pet a Koala like my parents.” Despite the health risk,with the unbelievable support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, we found ourselves on an airplane  to Australia to pet a koala, to make her wish come true.That was the trip of my life’ I was waking up every morning to find myself surrounded by my loved ones. it felt like I was waking up from one dream to another! No doubt that amazing continent of Australia contributed a lot to the feeling. We traveled along the  “Great Ocean Road” and we even took a helicopter ride. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s just not enough. A couple of months after we came back from the vacation, Noy’s health deteriorated. After a long and unbearable struggle, we lost the war. Noy was released from her pain and passed away. We all lost a piece of our heart that day, but since then we wear our smiles on our faces as a precious jewel, to carry on her legacy and spread to the world the smile as a voice of faith, of the understanding that we can’t lose our hope. To preserve her memory, we celebrate life. That is  the only way we know and the only way we agree to live by.  I truly believe that a smile can unite us together, do you agree?  
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region. 

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