The terrorists did their worst — this young man does his best
Last week, The Fellowship’s offices in Chicago had an extraordinary visitor. Asael Shabbo is a young Israeli man who is an accomplished basketyeball player and swimmer. Nothing extraordinary there – until you find out that Asael has only one leg.
Along with other members of The Fellowship staff, I got to meet Asael and hear him tell his story, which begins as a tragedy. When he was just nine years old, a terrorist entered his home in Itamar, in the West Bank. (You may remember that this was the same Israeli town where, last year, terrorists murdered five members of the Fogel family). “He came with a gun,” Asael remembers, “and shot and killed my mother and three brothers. I lost my leg.”
When Asael speaks about the attack, it’s clear he is filled with many difficult emotions. But it’s also clear that he made the decision early on that he would not allow this devastating attack to stop him from living his life. “After something like this happens to you, you have two choices,” he told us. “One is to destroy your life and do nothing, and just to be down all the time. The second one is to do what you love, and do the best.” Asael, obviously, chose the second path.
Asael credits much of his success not only to his choice, but to the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled, where he ended up six months after the tragic murder of his family. For Asael, the Center proved to be a place of positive focus, encouragement, and support. It was there that he began swimming, which, much to the surprise of his doctors, was so therapeutic that he no longer needed surgeries to correct his injuries.
Today Asael is training other young people to overcome their disabilities, as well as training for the upcoming Paralympics games in swimming and wheelchair basketball. After that, though his disability exempts him from compulsory military service, Asael is choosing to serve a two-year stint in the IDF. “All those years they give you something, and you need to give back something,” he says, when asked about his decision to join up. “That, for me, is what’s important.”
Leaving work the day of Asael’s visit, I thought a lot about him and how he had triumphed despite tragedy. I thought – it was impossible not to – about the terrible day of the attack nine years ago, and how those memories would stay with him all his life. But, most of all, I marveled at his positive outlook, resilience, and resolve. The terrorists did their worst. Asael courageously chooses to do his best.
In many ways, Asael’s response to terrorism mirrors the response of his nation. While terrorists choose to kill innocents in order to further their ends, Israel extends humanitarian care around the world, even to the Palestinians, whose leaders are sworn to Israel’s destruction. While terrorists choose to destroy, Israel acts as a creative force for good, making great strides in the fields of science, technology, and medicine, and exporting these innovations to the world.
It is amazing that, after what happened to him, Asael chose the path of life, creativity, and compassion, rather than the path of hatred. And it is a great gift to all those around him, and to everyone he meets, that he did.