I first met Brian Mast at the Palm Beach Synagogue in South Florida where he was invited to speak by Rabbi Moshe Scheiner who held a “Shabbat of Unity for Israel” in October 2015 due to the escalating violent attacks on Israeli citizens

“Our tradition teaches us that the greatest strength of the Jewish people is our unity. … we are heartbroken and deeply concerned about the welfare and safety of the State of Israel and all of its citizens … we stand with them at this moment and for the duration of their struggle for peace and justice,” Scheiner said.

Only a couple minutes into Brian’s address to the community and I found myself thinking how fitting the issue of Unity is to Brian’s message. How he has defended a common human yearning for the right to freedom, liberty, and justice that has the ability to cut through the divide of the Left and the Right, spanning across different faiths and races to unify us as "The People" like our founding fathers had envisioned when they wrote the US Constitution. To me, it felt like a breath of fresh air of honesty, clarity, and grace in our loud, confusing, and obnoxious political environment.

Brian Mast’s experience is unique even among staunchly pro-Israel politicians and candidates, he has volunteered with the Israeli Defense Forces.

Mast, who on August 30th won a decisive primary victory against a large group of well-financed, capable, competitors -winning 38% of the vote - is now the Republican nominee for the U.S House of Representatives seat for the 18th Congressional District in Florida.

Brian Mast
Brian Mast Brian Mast for Congress

He is a decorated U.S. combat veteran who has been the recipient of the Awards of Valor, Merit, Sacrifice and Achievement - among others - for his service and many lifesaving actions on the battlefield, and who's served his country for 12 years in the elite Joint Special Operations Command as a bomb disposal expert. During his last deployment in Afghanistan, he lost both of his legs to an improvised Explosive Device. But not even that has slowed him down as he continued to provide analysis, training, and advice in his field of expertise: counter-terrorism.

In addition to the Economy and National Security, the core issue of Brian's campaign include veteran’s affairs and local environmental concerns, and these issues are personal for him.

An advocate for veteran causes (Brian recently swam 1 Kilometer in the ocean as part of Operation 300’s frogman challenge) Brain sees firsthand the struggles that our nation’s servicemen and women and their families have to deal with. A local resident of Hutchinson Island on the treasure coast of Florida, Brian also joins in the local concern over the algae outbreaks that threaten the local economy and the health of his family and other residents. This led him to study green and watershed infrastructure at Harvard. Mast believes in devoting time and sweat to the causes he believes in; supporting Israel is no exception.

Brian’s service with the IDF was the result of not only personal conviction but also of personal experience. One experience, in particular, occurred in Boston, while he was at Harvard. Brian and his family were enjoying a break outside when they encountered a student protest directed against Israel. Neither Brian nor his family were identifiable with the Jewish State, but the protestors did identify Brian as a member of the United States Military and to the protesters - who proceeded to harass Brian, his wife, and his two children - the United States Military was synonymous with Israel’s. “I don’t know how” Brian told his wife after they returned to their home, “but I am going to find a way to go over there and help them.” Through contacts with the Friends of the IDF organization and others, Brian was able put his life and family on hold yet again, and to don the olive green uniform and stand side-by-side with America’s brothers in arms in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Brian while serving in the IDF
Brian while serving in the IDF Sarah Gordon

Brian’s commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with Israel and working to secure Israel’s safety is based on the shared values between the two great nations. “Israel is the lone country in the Middle East that represents everything the United States of America stands for; it represents freedom, human rights for all, a strong independent military and economy, and it is pro-U.S. It is everything that the United States wants to see in the rest of the Middle East, and that is why we have to stand with our greatest ally in the region,” he says.

Mark Levin, who served in the Reagan Administration, a prolific author and radio talk show host, says: “Brian is a man who says what he means and means what he says. He is a man of integrity.” This is certainly reassuring at a time when the resounding sentiment of the American public is one of mistrust due to being fed up with leaders who promise so much and deliver so little.

“Countering terrorism has been my highest goal," says Brian. "Serving my country without regard for personal gain and without regard for personal sacrifice. That is a soldier’s duty. I learned after being knocked down in a big way and having to find the strength inside to pick myself up to continue. The most important thing I learned in the military is that the best leaders never ask you to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. Often times you will find that there’s a lack of fight in many of those in DC. and I think there’s something to be said for the idea of asking to serve your country before asking to lead it. “

How true this rings with all of Israel’s leaders having served in the IDF from age 18.

Eytan Laor, a South Florida-based long time pro-Israel and political activist, is the founder and chairman of American Principles, a political action committee that supports conservative, pro-Israel candidates. He maintains relationships with dozens of U.S. House and Senate members. Eytan helps to keep many Congressional Members and their staffs informed about issues affecting Israel’s sovereignty and security, (born in Israel and emigrated to the U.S. at 8 years old) says:

"I have been involved with hundreds of non-Jewish pro-Israel philanthropists and activists. Even among them, Brian Mast stands tall. He has given his time to speak at numerous banquets and galas benefitting the soldiers of the IDF, AIPAC and other groups, and was recently the recipient of awards by EMET (The Endowment for Middle East Truth) and WIZO (The Women’s International Zionist Organization). He is not only vociferous and unapologetic in his defense of the Jewish Homeland, but took action to express his support by volunteering with the IDF. But what has most impressed me about Brian is the way in which he has not allowed his physical disability to interfere with his daily life as a public servant, as a husband and father to three little kids, and as an American.”

Left to right: Marion Frank, Brian Mast, Eytan Laor
Left to right: Marion Frank, Brian Mast, Eytan Laor Photo: Sarah Gordon

According to Evangelical Christian Zionist and AIPAC Congressional Advocate for Israel, Bill Callahan: , "Brian Mast is one of finest human beings I has ever met; a true American hero and patriot, who personifies service to country in actions, deeds, and sacrifice; laying his life on line for America and our way of life." Callahan notes, "how many people in Government & Politics possess the actual honor and integrity in actions rather than just words spoken, Mast is a rare example of living out his servanthood to country.

Brian’s story is something that speaks to the resilience and endurance of the human spirit as he so gracefully epitomizes.

Brian's message, being able to unify rather than divide, resonates with all faiths, races and even across political spectrums, because when a truth is undeniable it cuts through the confusion and it's not us versus them anymore. It’s about all of us who value our freedom and wanting to protect that above all else.

Sarah Ayala Gordon and Brian Mast at an event with Rep. Ryan Zinke
Sarah Ayala Gordon and Brian Mast at an event with Rep. Ryan Zinke Photo: Sarah Gordon

There is a saying that goes: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. This is an undeniable truth. In Brian's case, he also has the knowledge and experience from his intelligence committee’s work. Standing next to Brian Mast who exhibits a strength, confidence, and conviction, only matched by real humility, you are immediately struck by a level of true caring and concern for this country and you just know he will forge forward with courage amidst adversity.

Israel has identified the most valuable aspect of preserving her existential fragility through Intelligence.

Great leaders are often a product of the times. If we were to describe these times, and the leadership called for by them, Brian Mast would define its essence. Great leaders must deal with what is not known. Bravery, courage and humaneness are in Brian's equipment in taking on the unexpected events of our times.

Marion Frank of West Palm Beach said: “When Brian first thought about running for Congress, he talked to people to get a feel for what was needed to see if he had what it would take to be an effective congressman for everyone, not just for the people who would vote for him. Because of Brian's background in the military as a bomb tech, he is selfless and fearless. He made make the ultimate sacrifice for his country and even after that, Brian would get back in and do it all over again. This young man is one in a million. He’s what this country needs right now more than ever. “

Rabbi Scheiner of Palm Beach Synagogue says of Brian: “ A man of Brian's caliber and courage doesn't come along every day. He has sacrificed for America on the battlefield and is now prepared to do so on the political field. He stands for the best of what America represents.

Event for Brian that Florida's Lt. Gov., Carlos Lopez Cantera, attended
Event for Brian that Florida's Lt. Gov., Carlos Lopez Cantera, attended Photo: Sarah Gordon

About the Author: Sarah Gordonlived in Israel for 12 years and served for 2 years as liaison to the foreign press for the IDF Spokesman