Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Welcome Home Gilad

Tears are running down my face; I have just heard the news that a deal has been reached to bring Gilad Shalit home in a few days. I read articles about the deal, and I cry.

No, I have never met Gilad Shalit; yet I cry about his return anyway. I don’t know his family, yet I have spoken about Gilad every Shabbat for the last five years. In that time, I’ve lobbied the Canadian Parliament for Gilad, run publicity campaigns for Gilad, and written articles for Gilad.

And now I cry for joy. I cry for Gilad.

There is of course, a big question about Gilad’s release: is it worth it? There’s been a great debate about whether or not this deal is a good idea or not. In return for Gilad, 1,000 hardcore supporters of Hamas will be released. Hundreds of them have blood on their hands. Some argue that not only is Israel giving up too much, but that this deal will encourage Hamas to continue acts of terror. And of the 1,000 who are released, who knows what harm they will do?

The other point of view maintains that bringing Gilad home is important for the morale of every soldier. Hamas needs no encouragement to do acts of terror, but Israeli soldiers and their families need to know that the government of Israel will do anything for their release. Both points of view have real merit, and even though it sounds wishy washy, I find it hard not to nod in agreement with both sets of arguments.

But today I’m not thinking of debates; I’m just happy for Gilad and his family, and that’s what’s unusual. I’m left wondering why I’m crying for a total stranger. Is it normal to walk around with teary eyed about someone you’ve never met? And I know I’m not the only one to cry; I’ve seen the reactions of everyone around me to this news. Gilad is not a celebrity, he’s certainly no Steve Jobs; he’s just a nice young man who had the misfortune of being kidnapped. Yet for five years, millions of people have been thinking about Gilad every day, and today, they are crying tears of joy. But why are they crying?

Actually, there’s lesson about Jewish identity in our tears. To be Jewish is not just to be part of a religion or a nation, it’s to be part of a family. The Book of Genesis tells a story of a family, the family of Abraham and Sara, the family that ultimately gave birth to the Jewish people. One would think that Genesis would be a lot shorter, and would only dwell on the spiritual and political achievements of this family; after all, we just want to know a little bit of the early background of the nation, before jumping into the actual history of the Jews. But instead, Genesis goes on at length about this family’s dynamics, telling all about feuds and competition and love and forgiveness. It does so, because Genesis isn’t merely the prologue to Jewish history, it is the foundation of Jewish History. The lesson of Genesis is that even when the family evolves into a nation, the nation never stops being a family. We are, to use the Biblical phrase, “Israel’s children”, brothers and sisters in one large family of thirteen million people.

For better or for worse, this sense of family is very much a part of Jewish identity. Jews, even total strangers, will treat each other with all the familiarity, warmth and dysfunction of any family. Yes, we argue too much, often about petty things; but when the chips are down, we’re there for each other. One feels connected to a fellow Jew no matter where they are from, whether it be Montreal, Montivideo or Mumbai, because we’re all from the same the family.

And that’s why I had tears in my eyes upon hearing of Gilad’s release. Even though we don’t know each other, Gilad is still part of our family; and even though we haven’t met, Gilad is still my brother. Like millions of other Jews, I’m really happy Gilad’s coming home.

So, welcome home Gilad. Your thirteen million brothers and sisters have been waiting for you.