THE ‘JEWISH SKINHEAD’ GIVES BACK AND FIGHTS ON
John Daly’s Hollywood-like life has been equally exciting and – given his mission to give back to the world while constantly skirting the grim reaper – inspiring.
Metro readers first met 43-year-old John Daly in February 2009 in “The Harrowing Life of a Jewish Skinhead.” The article detailed his unbelievable life as a member and eventual leader of the North Florida branch of the Nazi Skinhead American Front.
Growing up in a small town in Florida, John Daly hooked up with a group of nonconformist kids with whom he thought he could fit in – an anti-racist skinhead group named after the county he lived in, Marion County Against Racism (MCAR).
While most people immediately associate the word “skinhead” with “Nazis,” there are different types of skinheads that most people don’t know about: non-racist SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), and those who are black, Jewish and even gay.
As Daly recounts, “In my small high school in Ocala, if you weren’t on a sports team, you were a nobody. I wanted to be accepted so I got involved in an anti-racist group of skinheads, MCAR. We didn’t do much of anything except hang out and talk about what was going on with the racist skins in larger cities, relieved we didn’t have them in our town.
“The guys all knew I was Jewish, but it didn’t bother anyone. It was all cool.”
One night, two of Daly’s friends went to Orlando, where they were approached by local racist skinheads (neo-Nazis) and were ordered, with threats of beatings and intimidation, to give the neo-Nazis the names and addresses of their skinhead friends in Ocala for recruitment in order to build up their dwindling ranks. One of the names was Daly’s.
Several days later, there was a knock on the door of the Daly home. When John opened it, he saw three neo-Nazi skinheads, complete with swastika tattoos. Afraid to let them in his house where they’d see the family’s menorah and other Judaica, he got in their car and drove off with them. He knew that if they had come into his house and saw the “Jewish stuff,” they’d kill him.
In the car, the three Nazi gang members took turns telling him stories about how certain individuals had been mysteriously hurt and hospitalized trying to escape. The driver then turned to Daly, put out his hand and said, “Welcome aboard.” Daly, a nice Jewish kid from a nice Jewish home, was now officially a neo-Nazi skinhead.
He lived in constant fear that his secret would come out. Whenever Jews came up in conversation, he would change the subject, saying, “Well you know there’s no shortage of minorities.”
Most of the time, he and his buddies would hang out, drink and fight “rednecks.” Daly had a sharp tongue and would verbally go after people, scaring them off with threats. This earned him a reputation as a good fighter and kept him from having to use his fists.
Daly miraculously escaped death when his Jewish identity was revealed by a jilted girlfriend of one of the skinheads, and the furious neo-Nazis decided it was time to “kill the Jew.”
He was beaten viciously and then plunged into the Atlantic Ocean to the chants of “Die, Jew boy! Die!” Thinking they had succeeded in drowning him, the would-be murderers fled, but miraculously Daly survived and made his way home.
While in the hospital, he was questioned by police. The skinheads, realizing they were in serious trouble, testified against each other to avoid long prison sentences, all the while planning revenge against “that dirty Jew.”
Upon recovering from his injuries, Daly took up martial arts, knowing he had a target on his back. He eventually earned numerous black belts in three different types of martial arts.
IN SEPTEMBER 1997, as the last of the skinheads were being released from prison, Daly, then 23, made aliya and was sent to Ashkelon because there was an opening in the absorption center there. He learned Hebrew and adjusted to his new life, doing volunteer work wherever he felt there was a need for his help. He has been living in Ashkelon ever since.
In 1999, taking a break from his studies in Ashkelon College, he accepted a job offer to go on a speaking tour around the US. His incredible story was the catalyst for raising awareness of the dangers of the growing threats of racism and the skinhead movement there.
He visited Anti-Defamation League chapters, Jewish and Christian groups, schools and retirement homes to talk about Israel. He was also a motivational speaker for addicts and at-risk youth.
Not being drafted into the IDF – though not for lack of trying and never getting an answer as to why he had been rejected – Daly views his speaking on behalf of Israel wherever he goes as his “personal army service.”
In 2001, he was accepted into an academic program offered by the Jewish Agency. This allowed him to go to college tuition-free in return for volunteering (which he had already been doing). He earned a bachelor’s in sociology and political science from Ashkelon College and Bar-Ilan University, with a minor in Judaic studies. A master’s in public policy and administration followed a few years later.
Since returning from his US speaking tour, Daly has been busy with jobs as a travel agent and teacher, but his passion is still volunteering. For many years he was the Ashkelon volunteer coordinator for Yedid, a nonprofit with one stated aim – to empower people to solve their problems by teaching them to work together to find solutions on a local or national level. In February 2009, Daly ran for the Knesset with the Hayisraelim Party on a platform of electoral change. (The party didn’t win any seats.) He has also been active in the English Speakers of Ashkelon and with a city animal rights group.
DALY WAS leading a healthy, active life, which came to a sudden halt on October 10, 2009.
In a synagogue enjoying Simhat Torah services, he suddenly crashed to the floor – having suffered, for the first time ever, a seizure. He regained consciousness in the ER of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, totally oblivious to what had landed him there and to the fact that he had undergone several tests and a CT scan.
He was soon transferred to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba where, relying on the CT, doctors told him that he had a brain tumor resting on the right frontal lobe (which controls higher mental functions, motor skills, emotional stability and helps with concentration) and there was nothing to do but give him anti-seizure medication.
Three days later, Daly was sent home with a bagful of medication, and returned to college life. He was summoned for an MRI a month later; there, Soroka’s chief of neurosurgery gave him the grim news, “The only person I know who might be able to help is Prof.
Tsvi Ram at Ichilov Hospital [part of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center]. He’s your one chance. Good luck.”
Daly’s records were sent to Prof. Ram at the end of December 2009. With his mother, Ruth, one of his brothers and his then-girlfriend anxiously waiting, He endured his first “awake” brain surgery, a procedure during which the patient is totally conscious in order to respond to different commands to see how their brain is functioning.
He was given a sedative to relax him and a local anesthesia was injected into his scalp. The anesthesia didn’t take, which according to doctors happens in just 1 percent of patients – and he was one of that group. He remembers intense, agonizing pain, screaming, cursing, yelling, drilling and the sounds of anxious voices all around him trying to calm him down.
Because of the excruciating pain, not only could he not pay attention to what was being asked of him, there was the real possibility of a life-threatening seizure. The anesthesiologist then sedated him completely. One of the results of this surgery was that his left side became partially paralyzed and he still endured massive seizures after the operation. To minimize the episodes, he started on doses of medications but nothing helped; he was time and again experiencing potentially fatal seizures.
His life became a series of doctor visits with regular trips to an epileptologist, a neurosurgeon, a neurologist and a neuro-oncologist. Throughout all this, he still managed to volunteer at Yedid to the best of his abilities. On September 2013, back in the hospital, Daly was taken off all medications for a full week. This was done to induce seizures so a video testing system could track them, allowing the specialists to understand them better. He was a prisoner in his hospital room, attached to electrodes and cables. It was here that he celebrated his 40th birthday, not knowing if he’d reach his 41st.
These procedures led to a second awake brain surgery in February 2014, carried out with the help of Dr. Gal Sela, a neuropsychologist. Ram once again performed the procedure and, thankfully, it went smoothly and without pain. During the operation, a portion of the tumor was successfully excised, but not all of it could be removed. As a result, Daly still has seizures, though they aren’t as aggressive.
Incredibly, after long months of physiotherapy, he was able to return to his life with some physical limitations. He still does volunteer work and lectures in high schools and colleges around the country, never covering the long, bright scar that runs across the top and side of his head. For him, it is a badge of honor.
IN JULY 2014, Daly was tracked down by a former friend who had been a member of the skinheads but was not in on the attempt to kill him. He wanted to make amends for his youth.
Although there was the chance it was a setup, Daly agreed to meet him, hoping that the friend’s goal was indeed legitimate.
The friend invited him to Prague, and since his seizures were less aggressive and to conquer his fear of traveling and meeting someone from his vicious past, Daly flew to meet him. This meeting resulted in a soon-to-be-released documentary, Escape From Room 18, making the rounds of global film festivals this season.
At an international pro-Israel rally in Jerusalem, Daly met a Belgian woman named Sandy, a staunch supporter of Israel. Intrigued by his life story, she invited him to Europe for the first of several trips speaking with audiences all over the continent.
This connection led him to an orphanage in Nepal founded and privately supported by a group of Belgians. To raise funds, they sponsored a bicycle trip, and Daly – who for years was not allowed to ride a bike or even think of driving a car – got the okay from his doctor and volunteered to join, provided he wore protective gear. he trained hard in preparation for this trip and was proud and elated to be an active part of it.
From this past May through August, under the Daly-designed banner of “Survivors for Survivors,” off he rode through wind, rain and heat on bumpy European roads. Exhilarated and crying with joy as he rode, thinking again and again, “I’m not supposed to able to do this,” he and his team got donations from as far away as Australia and the US. In the end, they raised more than €4,000.
To ensure all the money makes its way to the orphanage, Daly has been asked to go to Nepal for two weeks. He plans to expand the operation of the orphanage and to repair damage caused by the massive 2015 earthquake.
TODAY, DALY is in a watch-and-wait state. His tumor is an inoperable cancer that is constantly growing, albeit very, very slowly. If the tumor gets to the point where it must be treated, Daly will have radiation and chemotherapy treatments, but no one can predict how his tumor will behave.
Meanwhile, he lives an amazingly active life with daily doses of medicines to ward off potentially fatal seizures, which could happen at any time. The average life expectancy for someone with his type of tumor is five years.
Daly is going into his eighth.
“I’ve been living under a death sentence since I was 17, and now this tumor can go crazy at any time,” he says.
“Just as I refused to let the skinheads win, I won’t let this mass in my brain stop me from fighting for this country with my words, encouraging support of Israel from people abroad and helping people living here.”
Besides the surgical staff who saved his life, there is another hero in this saga: Ruth Daly, his beloved mom.
Having her son lead the dangerous life he did as a teen would be enough to overwhelm any parent, but Ruth, constantly worried for her son’s safety, was always there for him. No matter what, he always knew that he had a loving home to return to along with unconditional love.
Ruth made aliya to Ashkelon in 2009, a year after becoming a widow – Daly’s father, Ken, is buried in the Ashkelon cemetery. Ruth still worries about her son and is frightened for his health, safety and well-being, but one would never know it since she’s always smiling and laughing. When she looks up at her 1.8-meter-tall son, it is with a tremendous amount of love and a bit of awe that he’s still beating the odds.
Daly ended his meeting with Metro on a pensive note.
“When they tried to kill me, they shouted, ‘Die, Jew boy! Die!’ but they failed spectacularly. My revenge is not only living, but living in Israel, sharing my love for my heritage and this country, even if it costs me my life. You know, it’s very simple. They lost. I won.”
Daly’s Hollywood-like life has been equally exciting and – given his mission to give back to the world while constantly skirting the grim reaper – inspiring.