10 Tishrei 5781 / Monday, September 28, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Hidden Hero

Gideon Lichtman taught under the assumed name of "Rimon" after Israeli President Ezer Weizman warned him that he could be a target for Arab assassination…


It's never too late to say thanks.


One of the fun traditions our family has is recalling stories from past days. My children love to hear how their Abba sometimes misbehaved during his childhood. One story I told my kids was about Gideon Rimon, my 11th grade typing teacher, a man better known as Gideon Lichtman, a hero of Israel’s War of Independence. Mr. Rimon/Lichtman’s amazing, heroic past perhaps explains a mystery from one of the stories I told my children.


Mr. Rimon was famous to my kids for the “Rimon Day”. About once a month, my typing teacher would walk into class and announce a “Rimon Day” and then he would leave. Mayhem followed. Half the class would immediately leave, probably heading for McDonalds, never to return to class. The rest of us, too petrified of suspension, would wildly celebrate a full hour of totally unsupervised freedom. I always wondered, and my kids did too, how Mr. Rimon got away with completely shirking his duties as a teacher.


The answer may be found in the story of Gideon Lichtman, a man who passed away on March 7, 2018 at the age of 94. His obituary revealed that for more than 30 years, Lichtman taught under an assumed name after Israeli President Ezer Weizman warned him that he could be a target for Arab assassination. My typing teacher, the affable Gideon Rimon, was the first fighter pilot in Israel’s air force to shoot down an enemy fighter in 1948, during the War of Independence.


Lichtman was born in Newark, New Jersey. He’d seen action in World War II, escorting B-29 bombing missions in the Pacific Theater of War. He’d been out of the military for nearly two years when he heard the story of the SS Exodus at a shul lecture. He heard how the ship’s 4,155 passengers, mostly Holocaust survivors, were deported back to detention camps in Germany. In his anger, Lichtman volunteered to fight for Israeli independence, and within a week was on his way to Europe.


President Weizman, also a hero of the 1948 war, told Lichtman of Arab intelligence indicating that they were targeting foreign pilots who served in Israel. Weizman suggested he change his name to “Rimon”, a pomegranate, but also a grenade. The rimon perched atop the Torah represents both abundance and Hashem’s mitzvahs.


Lichtman flew as many as 90 missions during the war, crashing at least once. He later flew combat missions in Korea and returned to Israel as a test pilot. Lichtman was prominently featured in the novel Angels in the Sky: How a Band of Volunteer Airmen Saved the New State of Israel. He is also interviewed several times in Nancy Spielberg’s (Steven’s sister’s) documentary Above and Beyond. Said Lichtman, “I was involved because I wanted to do what I could for the Jews. I didn’t do it for the glory. I’m a Jew and I love that country. There was a real need to establish a state in Israel, because Jews were being persecuted around the world and needed a place to live.”


Eventually he returned to the United States, became a high school teacher and settled in Miami. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect Gideon Rimon’s heroism as Gideon Lichtman gave him the protection at Southwest Miami High School to declare a “Rimon Day” from time to time. Mystery solved?


If I had known about Mr. Rimon's heroism, I would have thanked him personally many times. I'm glad it's never too late to say thank you. Our country honored his memory on August 24, 2018 at Arlington National Cemetery with a formal dinner and ceremony before being interred at our nation’s most prominent military burial site.


When Mr. Rimon reads this article in heaven, I am hoping my typing teacher will give me a good grade. At the same time, we know many people who risk their lives daily to protect us from harm. Let's be sure to show our appreciation and take a few moments every day to pray for their well-being. May Hashem bless them with safety and success always. I'm certain that Mr. Rimon would give this suggestion an A+.


As I’m typing this story, I am again thankful to Mr. Rimon for teaching me to touch type and to my Dad for suggesting I take typing. May we all be guided and inspired by Mr. Rimon’s heroism and righteous actions on behalf of Israel and America.

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