Kevin Cullen

Say thanks with silence

Michael (left) and Daniel Bendetson. Michael (left) and Daniel Bendetson. (Photo by Peter Bendetson)
By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / November 9, 2010

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Peter Bendetson is a dermatologist who lives in Weston, and last April he took his two sons on a vacation to Israel. They happened to be standing on a sidewalk in Tel Aviv on Yom Hazikaron, the day when the entire country comes to a stop for two minutes.

It is Israel’s Remembrance Day, which honors fallen veterans and victims of terrorism. And in a country where most citizens do compulsory military service, it is a moment of profound poignancy and a demonstration of singular unity.

Drivers stop their cars and get out and stand at attention. People on bustling sidewalks stop dead in their tracks. The importance and price of military service is recognized by everyone whose security depends on it.

So after the two minutes of silence passed, Danny Bendetson, a senior at Weston High, turned to his father and asked, “Dad, why can’t we do this in our country?’’

Rather than leave that rhetorical question hanging, Danny Bendetson and his brother, Michael, a junior at Tufts, came back to Massachusetts and started working the e-mails as only a couple of kids can.

They started asking their peers and total strangers what they thought about the idea of creating a nationwide two-minute moment of silence on Veterans Day.

Most everybody thought it was a good idea, but good ideas mean nothing without juice. So they began an elaborate campaign to enlist politicians who could bring the idea to national fruition.

They knew it should be and had to be a bipartisan effort. Michael Bendetson got a summer internship at Senator Scott Brown’s office in Washington while a friend of his was interning in Representative Barney Frank’s office.

That led to a presentation to Barney Frank, to which the Bendetson brothers brought along a couple of veterans, Sanfred Katz and Norton Ellman, for good measure.

Frank loved the idea, so they had one House sponsor.

Then they met with Scott Brown, who recognized Katz as his old professor from Boston College Law School. It wasn’t a hard sell for Brown, who joined the National Guard when he was a junior at Tufts and is now a lieutenant colonel. They had a Senate sponsor.

Others, from both sides of the aisle, have asked for briefings. There will be more sponsors.

The Bendetson brothers wrote to the White House and received an encouraging letter.

Bob Dole, the former senator from Kansas and a genuine war hero, sent encouragement from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Setti Warren, who besides being the mayor of Newton is a Navy reservist and Iraq war veteran, signed a proclamation saying his city would adopt the two-minute moment of silence.

Last week, after the balance of power shifted in the House of Representatives, the Bendetson brothers sent e-mails to the offices of the presumptive House speaker, John Boehner, and his chief whip, Eric Cantor. Their offices responded enthusiastically.

The Bendetsons are hoping a bill can be introduced with the next Congress.

Last week’s elections reminded us that we remain a divided country politically. But the Bendetsons’ idea is an opportunity for Americans to put aside their political differences and do something that reminds us of the things that bind us, to recognize the historical and ongoing sacrifice of others. And it won’t cost a dime.

On Thursday, there will be ceremonies all over the country to honor America’s veterans. But how great, how moving, how absolutely appropriate, would it be if, next Nov. 11, the entire country came to a standstill for two minutes? All because a couple of brothers from Weston didn’t just ask why. They asked why not.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at