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In Memory of My Friend and Mentor, Daniel Drench (z’l)

“Oh, I can see Daniel waving goodbye,
God, it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes….
Lord, I miss Daniel; oh I miss him so much…
Your eyes have died but you see more than I.”
(Elton John)

• • • • •

Dan Drench
Dan Drench
I received the sad news about the loss of Dan while traveling with my family in northern Vietnam. Ironically, it helped me recall many memories and insights from my encounters with this great man who I humbly call a friend and mentor.

Dan was the ultimate voice of healthy common sense and essential historic perspective. His age, wisdom, and experience, but mainly his optimism, constant smile, and good spirit made him look at things from a different angle.

"Look at Vietnam," he told my son Yotam, a couple of years ago while sitting in my back yard after dinner. The two opinionated men proceeded to have a heated debate about the use of force as means to solve international problems.

Some 70 years and a wide physical and cultural ocean separated the young enthusiastic IDF officer and the wise elder statesman. Yet Barbara, Vered, and I will never forget how Dan was able to patiently touch the heart and soul of Yotam and put things in perspective for him. So getting the sad news while traveling in Vietnam with Yotam as part of his “post-army trip” was quite emotional and symbolic for us all.

Going back some 17 years to our first encounter, Dan was even then the voice of wisdom and common sense. We were traveling from the Negev to Jerusalem as part of the exploration delegation to establish our partnership with Ofakim/Merchavim.

During the few days of our visit, which took place during Purim of 1996, there were three major terror attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, killing tens of Israelis. There were voices on board our bus suggesting that we might want to put P2K on hold and concentrate our efforts to respond to the terror needs. It was Dan who clearly ended the debate when he said that he and Barbara had already been living for the past few months in the heart of Jerusalem. They felt good and didn’t even consider moving back to New Jersey, as it would be seen as a victory for terrorism.

“Life should go on as usual. Ofakim/Merchavim needs us with them to help cope with their isolation, economic and, God forbid, future security needs,” Dan said in a prophetic way, and everyone accepted his opinion.

From then on Dan and Barbara became our ultimate examples of the "living bridge" concept. They totally failed to catch on to the Hebrew language but with huge hearts and teamwork, they made endless amounts of friends; they constantly traveled to the Negev, and hosted everyone like family members.

Their Tel Aviv apartment became a hub for countless missions, delegations, and visitors, who encountered many of their new Israeli friends. Their first-class hospitality got national recognition but they wanted to take it to the next level. So surprisingly, but actually not, the Drenches decided to fulfill their love of Israel by becoming citizens and making aliyah. On the day of their arrival as olim (immigrants) I went to greet them, flowers in hand, at the special section of the airport. It was yet another unforgettable moment for us and for the Greater MetroWest community.

My last encounter with Dan was special and emotional as well. During IDF operation “Pillar of Defense” last November, I was in New Jersey when Barbara called. She said that she and Dan wanted me to come over and meet with a few friends in their Verona apartment. They thought that perhaps 10 people will come, due to the short notice. More than 50 showed up. The average age in the living room was higher than usual but so was the wisdom, emotions, and love of Israel.

Dan gave a brilliant historic perspective; I gave a short briefing. I then put the mayor of Ofakim, Tzvika Greengold, on the cell phone speaker. Tzvika is a “hero of Israel,” who received the highest military award for his heroic acts on the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War. Now he was coping with missiles that were being launched from Gaza on our partnership region of Ofakim/Merchavim.

Tzvika spoke about the resilience of the community of Ofakim and the appreciation of the solidarity coming from New Jersey. Then, in a spontaneous emotional, magical way, the entire crowd stood up, hugged each other, and together we sang Hatikvah. I was standing next to Dan and his hand was on my shoulder. The unique, symbolic occasion brought tears to my eyes then and now again when I recall the moment. I am happy that this last encounter with my friend and mentor Dan will stay with me forever.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Barbara flew to Israel last week to receive a big hug from her Israeli family and to participate in a memorial ceremony and tree planting at the Drench garden of the ISHA Center in Ofakim.
Barbara flew to Israel last week to receive a big hug from her Israeli family and to participate in a memorial ceremony and tree planting at the Drench garden of the ISHA Center in Ofakim.

Drishat Shalom,

 

 

Amir

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