Feeling Free With Gilad
I can still hear the sounds of the Katyusha rockets falling, as we were sitting at my mom’s living room in Haifa. My wife immediately asked, “Are those the sounds of bombs falling that we just heard?” I said, “Hakol beseder” (everything’s OK) in the typical Israeli way of denial. “No, probably just some really loud trucks!” Maybe that’s a survival method in Israel, to react with “No” first.
It only took a few minutes to get confirmation that Hezbollah had fired, for the first time ever, rockets from Lebanon so deeply into Israel. We also heard that a few soldiers were killed at the Lebanon border and in Gaza, and that one soldier was missing—Gilad Shalit. Our vacation, and my daughter’s first visit to Israel, changed forever. My hometown became a ghosttown; we reluctantly shortened our vacation by two weeks.
I started following this young man’s journey. The years went by, and I saw my daughter growing up in front of my eyes, from a 2-year-old who spoke very few words to a theatrical young girl who sang and played, but I frequently thought about the son of another family who was rotting away in an underground jail somewhere very near Israel. Because I am a former Israeli navy officer, this disturbed me greatly. My friends and I always knew that the country we gave our youthful years to in service of its security would make every effort to take care of us, especially if we got injured or captured in combat. Israel hadn’t kept its promise to Gilad.
The Shalit family stepped up its efforts to free Gilad by participating in a very personal documentary about his plight and their difficult journey. I was very glad that BJ took a stance and showed this film to the community. I pushed back a long-planned vacation in order to be there in support of Gilad. I was especially proud as a BJ staff member when Yaara Winkler, the girlfriend of Gilad’s brother, Yoel, was allowed the rare honor of addressing the congregation at a Friday night service this past summer.
My family and I were overjoyed when the news came about his possible release. When he was freed and I saw photos of Gilad as a free man, I felt like I had been liberated too. The burden of despair and disbelief of these many years was shed. I was finally free from the doubts that had grown in me regarding Israel’s commitment to its soldiers, the fear that Israel would never deal with its enemies, the worry that yet another Israeli family would become bereaved.
When I was invited to read the prayer written in honor of Gilad by Beit Tefilah Israeli, one of BJ’s partners in Israel, at an impromptu ceremony at the JCC on Oct. 18, 2011 I was deeply honored.
… May it be your will, our God and the God of our fathers and mothers, that in this day, and in all days to come, the freed captive will experience only joy in his heart, peace of the soul, and success in all his doing, together with his family and the entire people of Israel.
God who listens to prayer and pursues life, may the feelings of solidarity and mutual responsibility that are felt all over Israel in these days continue in the coming days, and that the saying “He who saves one person is as if he had saved an entire world” will continue to guide the State, its leaders, government, and citizens …
I finally felt more whole (shalem), and thus more inner peace (shalom).
I feel more hopeful about Israel’s future and want to believe, as Gilad said in his first interview, after years of being in darkness (literally), that the return of all prisoners to free life will help bring peace to that region! Amen.