U.S. Navy pilot cited for heroism

A Jewish pilot was awarded one of the U.S. Navy’s highest honors for sacrificing his life to save his three crew mates.

Lt. Miroslav “Steve” Zilberman was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroism over the Arabian Sea on March 31, when he assumed manual control of an E-2C Hawkeye after it blew an engine.

He kept the plane steady and ordered his crew to eject. Zilberman, who was returning from an Afghanistan mission, was declared lost at sea three days later.

“He held the plane level for them to do so, despite nearly uncontrollable forces,” Navy Rear Adm. Philip Davidson wrote to Zilberman’s parents, emigres from Ukraine who settled in Columbus, Ohio. “His three crewmen are alive today because of his actions.”

Zilberman, who was based in Virginia Beach, Va., also is survived by his wife and two small children. He was 31.

‘Faces’ of Heroism

At 7 feet tall, the free-standing photos in the Skirball’s “Faces of Ground Zero: A Tribute to America’s Heroes” showliterally loom larger than life. Grizzled firefighter Louie Cacchioli, who dodged hellish traps before leading 50 people down 23 floors, cradles his helmet like an infant. Window washer Jan Demczur, wearing a meek expression, holds the squeegee he used to pry open an elevator and bash through a wall. Joanne Gross, her eyes bewildered, clutches her brother Tommy’s firefighter and cowboy hats. Next to her stands a photo of her other firefighter brother, Danny, who searched the rubble 24 hours a day until he found Tommy’s body.

Joe McNally, the former Life magazine photographer behind "Faces," was often grateful for the darkness in the studio. "I could shrink behind the lens so people couldn’t see I was a mess," he says.

McNally, 49, conceived "Faces" as headlines described the rescuers’ deeds as giant in stature. He thought of the huge Polaroid camera — nicknamed Moby and large as a whale — he’d once used in a studio near Ground Zero.

He promptly camped out in the studio, sleeping there for three weeks and spreading the word that survivors and rescuers were welcome any time of the day or night. Soon they began arriving in droves, wearing the clothes they’d worn on Sept. 11 and posing in front of the lens that had been taken from an old U-2 spy plane.

The pristine images, which emerged in 90 seconds, include a bone-tired paramedic and two stalwart-looking firefighters, McNally’s favorite. "These guys depict a uniquely American durability," he says. "They sum-up a theme of the show: that even after Sept. 11, we’re still here."

For his part, Uri D. Herscher, the Skirball’s president and CEO, has extended museum hours to honor the acclaimed exhibit, one of three inspired by the attacks to arrive in Los Angeles this summer. "Jewish tradition states, ‘To save one life is as if you have saved the world,’" he says. "These heroes saved many."

For information about the show and related events, call (310) 440-4500.

Righteous Rescuers Honored

Though certainly one of the most bitter memories of history, the Holocaust was also a time of true heroism and great humanity. On Sun., May 6, Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley dedicated a grove of trees to the non-Jewish heroes who risked their lives to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Lidia Furmanski of Pasadena, a rescuer from Poland, and Bert Lerno of Simi Valley, a Jewish Dane who was rescued, were guests of honor at the dedication ceremony.

"Mount Sinai’s mission is to provide solace and honor human spirit," said Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks. "The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is an eternal testimonial to the thousands of non-Jewish rescuers whose courage and respect for their fellow men and women set a high standard for us all."

The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is the first of its kind in this country and consists of 20 olive and almond trees. An additional 18 Jerusalem pines were donated by the Jewish National Fund, best known for planting more than 210 million trees in Israel. Through the grove winds a path among stone plaques acknowledging each of the 38 countries where citizens, at their own peril, protected Jews. In addition to a commemorative plaque, the centerpiece of the grove is a fountain of water surrounding an eternal flame. Dr. Edward Kamenir noted that the "combination of fire and water represents two extremes that can live in harmony." Kamenir worked as a volunteer to develop the new cemetery and was inspired by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial, to create a memorial to the heroes of the Holocaust.

"In front of [Yad Vashem] is a grove of trees dedicated to the righteous gentiles of the world. It impressed me that they had a place," Kamenir said. "Wherever we memorialize those who were sacrificed by the Nazis there should also be a memorial for those who sacrificed themselves to save them."

Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis spoke during the ceremony and worked with local school children to plant a few trees in the grove.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, focused on the importance of remembering our history. "One thing is more powerful than death itself — memory," Schulweis, said, adding that "memory is a subtle art. You have to know how to remember."

Schulweis, the founder of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, noted that if you leave people with only a melancholy memory, that memory could turn to cynicism. "Remember evil and do not forget goodness,"he said.