You probably never heard of Nadav Ben Yehuda, an Israeli mountain climber who trained arduously for two years to scale the heights of Mount Everest. With barely 1,000 feet to go on his quest, he stopped. He did not make it to the top, and the why of it is also why his name should be on the tip of every tongue. Instead, his 15 seconds of fame came and went. His face momentarily graced the front pages of some newspapers, but not all; he had a few seconds of broadcast fame on television news programs; but he otherwise has not received the kind of publicity that, say, some spoiled brat of an actor gets for pocketing a candy bar at Walmart.
Yet in a world that desperately needs role models, Nadav Ben Yehuda fills the bill in heroic fashion. There he was, climbing the world’s highest mountain, something that had been a lifelong dream, and for which he had trained for two years and expended a small fortune, to achieve. He wanted to be the youngest Israeli to make it to the top. He just was not prepared to let someone else die for his dream.
Climbing Mount Everest is not like climbing just any tall mountain. Between 1922 and 2010, 219 people died on Everest. Ironically, most died on their way back down, never to boast about their achievements. On his way up, Ben Yehuda passed two dead bodies. There would be four dead on Everest that weekend.
Then he passed a third body, a 46-year-old Turkish-American by the name of Aydin Irmak. He was alive, but just barely. Irmak had made it to the top and was on his way down when the rarefied atmosphere and bitter cold conspired to rob him of precious oxygen.
Irmak was lying there, waiting to die. In 2006, one after another, 40 or more climbers scaling Everest encountered a British climber in the same condition as Irmak. Not one of them stopped to help. He died. This time, no one stopped to help Irmak – no one, that is, until Nadav Ben Yehuda came along.
“He had no gloves. No oxygen. No crampons. No cover,” Ben Yehuda told an interviewer for Israel’s Channel 2.
“If I had continued climbing, [Irmak] would have died for certain,” he told a reporter for the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot. “Other climbers just passed him by and didn’t lift a finger, but I had no second thoughts. I knew that I had to save him.”
Ben Yehuda harnessed the unconscious man to himself and began what turned into an eight-hour journey down Mount Everest. It may cost Ben Yehuda some fingers, according to news reports. The danger to himself, however, was not something about which Ben Yehuda gave much thought.
“A person’s life, any person’s life, is more valuable than anything,” he told the Yediot Achronot website Ynet. “I knew that I might lose my fingers, but that wasn’t something I could worry about because that would be immoral.”
“I would have died on the mountain,” Irmak told Yediot Achronot. He added, “Nadav did a great thing.”
Yes, he did.
What is wrong with us and with our values that his name is not on our lips and his face is not instantly recognizable.