August 15, 2012

As If He Saved An Entire World

Having just written about Israelis on the trail, I feel I have to include this incredible tale of valor and kindness.

On May 19, an Israeli was approaching the summit of Mount Everest. So close to scaling the world's tallest mountain, he was just 250 metres from the peak. 

He climbed along the icy ridge near the summit battling bitter -40 degree celsius temperatures and howling 200-kilometre winds. Yet he moved quickly, the peak finally within his sight. Not only would he realize a dream, but at 24, he was soon become the youngest Israeli on record to scale the heights of the world’s tallest mountain, standing at 8,848 metres high.

Peering through blasting snow, he saw a bundle on the trail clipped to a climbing rope. Stiff and covered in ice, he soon realized it was a body. He checked for vital signs. Nothing. As he trudged up, he saw another body. He then came across a third person sprawled across the icy ridge: frozen, pummeled by icy winds, gloveless fingers blackened by frostbite.

The climber looked closer and recognized this man from base camp. Upon examining him, he realized his friend had no oxygen. He was semi-conscious but still alive.

Other exhausted climbers trudged by in silence, walking blindly around the bodies as if they were mere clumps of snow. Reaching the summit was their singular desire burning in an icy world.

But this young climber had another desire and he acted quickly. He hoisted the semi-conscious man over his shoulders, navigating the treacherous descent with the extra weight. In order to hold him securely, he threw off his own gloves, exposing his fingers to the biting cold. He trudged like this for eight hours. He too had no oxygen and felt light-headed, faint. He wanted to fall, let go, sink into the snow, yet he continued on until he reached Camp IV. 

Upon arriving, he and his companion were airlifted to hospital. They both lived.

Our young hero is Nadav Ben-Yehuda, a young Israeli who finished the army just two years ago and who dreamed of climbing Everest. He had trained for two years to prepare for this moment. But for Nadav, when faced with this situation, there was no dilemma, no question at all: he had to save Aydin Irmak’s life.

Unlike Nadav, Aydin had made it to the top. Near the summit, Aydin patiently waited for the raging winds to cease, then stood alone on the top of the world, five minutes of victory. However, while climbing back down, his oxygen ran out and he fell in a stupor into the snow. The next thing he remembered was hearing Nadav’s voice, gently probing. “Aydin, Aydin, are you there?” 

Aydin wanted to give his Everest certificate to Nadav but the authorities would not permit him.

The two will remain lifelong friends. One is Israeli and the other is Turkish. And although relations between Israel and Turkey are cold, this Everest adventure is heart-warming.

It says in Mishnah Sanhedrin, "Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."  For Nadav Ben-Yehuda, this knowledge was so ingrained in his soul, he did not think twice. And he rushed to save a world.

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