Translated by Devora Friedman
Edited by Aviva Rappaport
Jerusalem / New York
My name is Tzviki Green. I'm the
boy you heard about and read about
in connection with the scary story
of the hostages captured in Singler's Supermarket
The story itself is true, but some of the reports
were exaggerated. I didn't sneak into the store in
order to rescue my friend - - I just happened to be
trapped inside it when the terrorists took over, and
there was no way I could escape. It's also not true
that I rescued the hostages on my own. All I did
from my hiding place was help the police overcome
the terrorists. And I didn't use force, I simply
acted with cool, calm deliberation. I'm not a big
hero. I just happened to be on the scene and had no
choice but to do what I did. Much of what was
written about me was made up by the press or by
people who didn't even know me before it happened.
I want to describe the incident in full, but first
- so you'll know how I happened to be there and
how I was granted the courage and calmness from
Above to act the way I did - - I have to go back ten
years, to my childhood. I have to go back to the
many difficult changes I went through in my life.
Only then will you understand that nothing in this
world happens by chance, and that all the problems
I had and all the changes I went through ever since
I can remember were all to give me strength so
that one day I could save eight people whose lives
were in danger - - among them Aryeh, my very
I was born in a large city in the center of
Israel, where I've lived most of my life. I don't live
there now, but I have a lot of memories from that
The first thing I remember is when I was three.
I was walking down the street with my father.
There were a lot of people there. I remember that a
small boy stood on the street corner calling out to
everyone "harbei nachas." I remember clearly that I
asked my father why he was shouting like that. My
father explained that the boy wanted to sell "arvei
nachal" willow branches that grow beside rivers,
for Sukkos. I didn't understand why a little boy
was selling aravos.
"Children need to play, not sell aravos" I said
to my father then, and he gave me a strange look. I
remember that I felt sorry for the little boy, because
no one bought any arvei nachal, even though he
shouted and pleaded and looked a little sad. The
street looked colorful and happy; people shouted
and laughed. Only I thought about the little boy
who didn't sell any aravos. I decided right then
and there that I would never sell arvei nachal I
didn't want to be sad.
I also remember a very old lady who was a
neighbor in our building. It seemed to me then that
she had to be about 120 years old. She had a lot of
wrinkles and a lot of energy.
I used to sit in her house for ages and watch
her. I don't remember who brought me to her. I
never asked her her name. I just sat and watched
how she filled cartons with cookies, cakes and
bottles. She said that they were tzedakah for the
poor. That same day, I decided to stuff the tzedakah
boxes in our house with cookies. After the second
cookie, my mother saw what I was doing and
scolded me. She asked who taught me to do such a
thing. I didn't tell her, because I didn't want to
tattle on the old lady, who really seemed to me to
be a good person. I just looked at her, at my
mother, and didn't say a thing.
I remember that a few times I came home late
because something caught my interest, especially
one time when I stood next to a delivery truck
being unloaded by a crane. I stood there for hours
watching, and didn't notice that it had turned dark.
A lot of police patrol cars were looking for me
that time. When one of them stopped next to me
and two policemen jumped out and asked me to get
in, I told them in all innocence that the delivery
truck was still half full. I'll never forget my
mother's worried look when the policemen brought
me home. I heard one of them say to her that I was
"too independent," a phrase I was to hear often in
my life later on.
I hardly remember kindergarten. I just re-
member that I was happy there, except for one
time, when a substitute teacher, who didn't even
know me, put me in the corner. I'll never forget
the loneliness I felt then. I stood next to the wall
and cried, until Ahuva, the music teacher, asked
her to forgive me. As long as I live, I'll always
remember Ahuva who helped me even though I
didn't ask her to. But I don't know who Ahuva is
or where she lives. Actually, I don't even
remember how she looked, except that she was
very big, so big that even her huge accordion
looked very small on her.
I remember that one time my father took me
to a certain building. "This is where you'll study
for the next eight years," he said to me. "This is
your school. 'A baby runs away from school,' " he
added with a laugh, "but you'll be a good student,
"I'm not a baby, Abba," I told him.
'"Baby' also means any small child," ex-
plained my father, "and this is a well-known
saying of our Sages."
"But I'm not a baby, Abba," I repeated.
My father looked at me again with the same
strange expression and replied, "Yes, I agree."
But then he added, "Tzvi, are you clever, or just
My father is the only one who doesn't call me
My first years in school were great.
I made lots of friends in every
grade. School work seemed very
easy. I got good grades without even trying.
Those were wonderful days. Nearly everyone
in school knew me, from the principal to the
janitor. I was slightly afraid of the principal, even
though I had no reason to feel that way because he
really liked me. Whenever he saw me from a
distance he would smilingly wag his finger "nu, nu,
nu" in warning.
Our janitor, Reb Yosef, was my best friend. I
loved staying after school to watch him fix broken
tables and chairs. I would bombard him with
dozens of questions, and he would answer me with
endless patience. I once asked him why people
called him "Reb Yosef" when he wasn't a rabbi or
anything like that. He didn't know what to answer
me. He said that he wasn't the one who had asked
everyone to call him that. He was very embar-
rassed. Now, years later, I know I shouldn't have
asked him a question like that, but I was only in
During that period, my father was away from
home for weeks on end. Every time he was away
for a few days I would ask my mother where he
was. My mother explained that he had gone abroad.
She looked worried when she said that. Every time
my father came back home from a trip abroad he
would bring me a small gift.
I remember that I told him once that he didn't
have to travel all the way outside of the country
just to buy me a present. I told him that while I
was happy to get a present, it seemed to me that
Ima would rather have him buy me presents in
Israel. My father laughed, and then later I heard
him telling my mother what I had said. They both
That night at supper my father said, "Tzvi, I
don't travel abroad in order to buy you presents.
The opposite is true. I have to travel, and because I
travel, I buy you presents." I didn't understand
what the difference was, but I didn't say anything.
I was afraid he'd stop bringing me presents.
One day in Tevet, when I was in third grade,
my mother asked me, "Tzviki, do you know where
I didn't know. I knew a Jot of things about
America, but I didn't know where it was.
I kept on going to school as usual, but soon I
noticed something strange: the house began to be
filled with large cartons. I didn't know why car-
tons had been brought in. I could have asked, but
for some reason, I didn't.
"Tzvi, have you heard of a place called New
York?" my father asked me that same week.
"It's... in America?" I guessed.
"Right," said my father. "In another two
weeks we'll be moving to America."
I kept quiet.
"You're happy about going, aren't you, Tzvi?
We'll fly there in a big plane/' my father said.
I didn't say a thing.
That night my mother asked me, "Did Abba
tell you that we're moving to America?"
"I don't want to go to America, Ima. I want to
stay here," I said.
"Abba wants me to explain it to you. He has to
be there to do important things for KM Yisrael"
I told Ima that I was happy in school, that I
had made a lot of friends and that I was considered
a good student. My mother said that she knew all
that, and that I would find new friends. I told Ima
that I didn't like good-byes. I didn't understand
why Abba had to take me and the whole family out
of the country because of one man named 'AM
Right away, my mother corrected my mistake.
'Am Yisrael' means all the Jewish people, not one
person," she explained. "Abba is a very important
community leader and simply has to be there to
help Jews in the Diaspora."
My father really is a community leader. He is
well known both in Israel and abroad. A lot of
people don't even call me Tzviki, but "Mordechai
Green's son" instead. I knew that some of the
teachers in the school I went to would say to each
other at the beginning of the year, "That's Green's
son." Some of them used to point a finger at me.
Those were uncomfortable moments. And now I
had to leave my street, the window I always looked
out of, Reb Yosef and all of my friends, just
because my father was a community leader. It was
hard for me to accept.
During those days I used to walk to school
thinking the whole way. I didn't talk to anybody.
During recess I used to go to Reb Yosef's small
room. He'd ask me questions, but I wouldn't answer
him, I'd just stand there and watch.
On Shabbos I asked my father, "Where will I
study in New York?"
"Toras Chaim," he said. "It's very famous."
"In what language do they learn there?"
"English," he told me, "with some Yiddish."
We speak only Hebrew. "I don't know
English or Yiddish, Abba."
"I don't want to go to America, Abba. I don't
want to leave my friends."
"There's no choice, Tzvi. It will be a little
hard, but you'll get used to it."
That night I heard my father and mother
arguing. I couldn't make out details of their
conversation, but I definitely heard my mother say,
"He's not like other children. He's sensitive, and
you know that. If he were a regular child, I
wouldn't hesitate to go, but Mordechai, believe me,
I'm afraid. We have to prepare him for the trip."
After that there were a few more words and
then silence. I remained awake. I didn't know
what Ima meant when she said "He's not like other
children, he's sensitive." I asked myself if the rest
of my friends wouldn't have reacted the same way.
My mother was right. Most of them would have
gone happily. Not everyone is as afraid of good-
byes as I am.
On Sunday, after that same Shabbos, before
classes started, I went straight to Reb Yosef. He
was preparing glasses of tea for the teachers.
"How is Mr. Tzviki Green today?" he asked.
"Have you decided today to talk to me?"
"Reb Yosef," I asked, "what kind of place is
America? My parents want to move there. I don't
want to move to America. I like my friends, my
street, and also the playground and also... you, Reb
Yosef. How can I move to America? I don't want to
learn English and Yiddish; I don't want to go to a
different school. What should I do, Reb Yosef? I'm
afraid. I don't like good-byes. I'm afraid I'll never
see you or my friends again."
Reb Yosef didn't reply. He just looked at me
and didn't say a thing.
The next day, my homeroom teacher called me
aside. "I heard that you are moving to America. Do
you know that your father is a very important
man? He works to bring people closer to Judaism.
You too will have a share in the mitzvah, Tzviki.
Try to be brave. No one will forget you."
I remained silent.
"Do you hear, Tzviki? Other children would be
very happy to travel to America. It's a big and
interesting country. You'll find new friends, you'll
learn their language and get used to it. You'll
simply get used to it."
I started to cry. "But how can I leave all my
friends, my class, and Reb Yosef? I'm only a little
boy with a little heart that could break. How can I
stand such a hard good-bye? How?"
I cried for a long time and said strange things.
My teacher stood next to me the whole time trying
to comfort me. "I'm going to tell you something
important," he said to me. "Nothing is more whole
than a broken heart.
"Does that sound strange? But that's how
hearts are. When they break, they also open up to
understand the feelings of other people. I am sure
that what you are going through now will help you
in the future to understand the depths of other
The teacher continued to explain and calm me
down. I didn't really hear everything he said, but
the sentence about the broken heart has stayed
with me until this very day.
"Tzviki still isn't eating," my mother told my
father one evening. "He brings back the snack I
give him every day for school. He refuses to eat
dinner. I'm afraid something will happen to him."
My father looked at me. "Tzvi, the Rosh
Yeshivah wants to speak with you."
I raised my eyes in surprise. The Rosh
Yeshivah to whom my father was referring was the
man whose picture hung in the middle of our living
room wall. Many stories were told about him. He
was the "leader of the generation." Not everyone
could get in to see him. But my father could. My
father was considered "one of the family" and used
to consult with him about every step he took. It
couldn't be that the Rosh Yeshivah himself wanted
to talk with me, I thought, with a small boy who
doesn't want to go to America.
We went to visit the Rosh Yeshivah that very
night. At first, my father didn't say a word, he just
sighed from time to time. Then he said, "I've
already spoken to the Rosh Yeshivah about you,
Tzvi. I told him that my son doesn't want to go
with me. I told him that I'm torn between the
command to go and my son who finds it hard to
leave. He told me to bring you to him. You have to
take yourself in hand like an adult, Tzvi, If he
called you, there must be a good reason for it."
We entered the house. The Rosh Yeshivah's
assistant asked my father, "Are you going in with
him?" My father said no. I was terrified. I didn't
know what I would say to the Rosh Yeshivah.
The assistant opened the door and showed me
into the large room.
The Rosh Yeshivah was sitting on a chair,
learning from a Gemara. At first, he didn't notice
that we had come in. Suddenly he looked up, and
our eyes met.
I gazed at him. He had a beard as white as
snow. His forehead was wrinkled, but his skin was
as soft as velvet. He didn't look at me, only at the
Gemara, and began to talk, maybe to me, maybe to
himself. Even though he spoke to me, he really
seemed to be talking to himself.
"I sent my beloved student, Mordechai Green,
to America on a very important mission for KM
Yisrael" said the Rosh Yeshivah. "But he has other
missions as well. His son's education. What comes
first? The thousands of Jews in America who will
be brought close to Torah and mitzvos, or
Mordechai Green's son, who doesn't want to go?
Can I assume responsibility for the fate of a Jewish
child? Can I force him to go to America? Perhaps he
is a sensitive child. Perhaps leaving is hard for him.
Will he be able to overcome this?"
Silence filled the room, and then he said,
"Still, it never hurts to try."
Only then did he lift his head and look directly
into my eyes. His eyes, peering from behind thick
glasses, were soft and kindly. I looked at him, at
his white beard, his radiant face, and didn't say a
"A plane can go and also return. Do you
understand? You are not going away forever. I can
tell your father to cancel his plans and remain
here. But first I wanted to ask if you think you can
He looked at me. "You don't have to answer
me," he said. "I know you are afraid of me. You
can tell your father your decision."
He leaned forward and stroked my cheek.
"Your father is like a son to me, and you, like a
grandson. Give him your answer by tomorrow."
He stroked my cheek again and said shalom. I
went outside and told my father what the Rosh
Yeshivah had said. My father just said, "When you
decide, tell me."
That evening, I went over to my father and
said only one thing: "I'll try!"
The days flew by. I said quick good-byes to my
friends. They weren't really good-byes. I hate good-
byes. I just informed them that I was moving to
America. Most of them looked a little jealous. I
didn't understand what there was to be jealous of.