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.


Anonymous said...

"The other point of view maintains that bringing Gilad home is important for the morale of every soldier."

And what about the morale of soldiers who risked their lives and were wounded capturing terrorists who are now being freed to carry out more terror attacks? What about the morale of today's soldiers who have 1000 more fundamentalist Islamic animals to worry about? What about the next time an order is given to an elite commando unit to capture a Palestinian terrorist? How much "morale" will the soldiers have knowing that this captive will be set free the next time one of ours is taken captive?

Don't get me wrong - I am very happy for Gilad and his family. But my joy is drowned by all the repercussions of this deal. And I am especially furious at Olmert and his crew who agreed to the cease fire in Gaza without securing Gilad's release. That was criminally irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous above me,

As someone who has lost a very close soldier relative , as someone whose immediate and extended family has served for generations id defense of our tiny homeland, as someone who can see the issue from the lens of a family who is grieving and also from the lens of someone still serving, I am greatly relieved to hear of Gilad's imminent release. The soldiers still on the ground know all too well that 1000 released is a drop in the bucket as there are many willing to carry out actions in their name and in their honour. The families of those killed in acts of terror are themselves split. Some cannot fathom that the one who killed their child will walk free. Others want to spare the Shalit's some of their pain. Gilad will not be the same man he was. I wish him and his family the best in reconstructing some sort of life. There will be other soldiers taken captive. There will be more blood shed. There will be more terrorism. To think that the cause will be the deal to free Gilad is unrealistic. They want to drive us into the sea, to wipe us from the face of the map, of the world. That is not going to change soon.