It was a hot day in June 1997, the first day of summer vacation for many high school students. The Tel Aviv beach was packed with people. It was a perfect day for Motti Ashkenazi.
Motti, a drug addict and petty thief, was the product of a poor South
Tel Aviv neighborhood, where crime was rife. He had been recently released from detention after a foiled attempt at trying to break into a car. He had begun thinking of trying to change his life, but did not find it easy. That day he was hoping to earn some money, which he desperately needed to feed his addiction.
As he walked along the beach area, he spied a black backpack on the ground. He waited in the distance for several minutes to be sure no one was coming to claim it. He then swiftly lifted it up and headed away from the beach, looking for a place where he could open the bag undisturbed.
He went to a small nearby street, perhaps prophetically named Rechov Geulah (the street of redemption). He entered a rundown building and quickly opened the backpack, hoping to find some money. What he found instead turned out to be far more valuable to him than money. Inside the bag he found a clock, connected with wires to a cookie tin. He had stolen a terrorist’s bomb.
After he overcame his initial shock at what he had found, he ran to a hotel in the area and asked someone to summon help. He returned to the building on Rechov Geulah and waited for the bomb squad to arrive, so he could show them exactly where the bomb was located.
While the men were trying to deactivate the bomb, Motti stood guard outside the building, trying to keep people safely away from the area. When he was satisfied that things were under control, he quickly left the scene. To his ultimate good fortune, he had been recognized by one of the police at the site. When he was found shortly afterwards, Motti lied, saying he had come across the backpack when he was inside the building. He later confessed to having stolen it from the beach.
The bomb was large, with about six and a half pounds of explosives. Together with the nails inside, it would have caused many casualties.
Overnight, Motti became a hero – but the story does not end there. In recognition of his selfless deed, the police erased all of his criminal files. They went a giant step further, sending Motti for drug rehabilitation and supporting him through the difficult process.
Motti was finally able to kick his drug habit, marry and have a baby. Five years later, almost to the day he found the backpack, Motti was offered a special job where he could put his former abilities to good use. He became a guard at the Tel Aviv beach.
This time, he was there to protect people’s belongings from theft.
Several years have passed, and now Motti is the father of four. He runs a towing service and has come a long way from that skinny, thirty-year- old drug addict on the beach.
Motti’s story is an important one for us to know. It gives us hope that the difficult times in our lives can be turned around – with the help of Hashem.
Sometimes, in ways we might least expect.