Bay Area birthday wishes for kidnapped Israeli soldier

Arriving in Israel for summer vacation, Noa Turgeman got a  reminder about kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In the airport parking lot.

“Where you pay for the ticket, there was an image of Gilad Shalit,” she recalls, “and the words from the Hebrew Bible, ‘Ve’shavu banim le’gvulam,’ which means ‘And your sons shall return to their borders.’ ”

That’s all it took. Turgeman decided on the spot to do something to honor Shalit when she returned home to San Francisco.

Cpl. Gilad Shalit   photo/ap

Kidnapped by Gaza-based Hamas terrorists in a June 2006 cross-border raid, Shalit has been held prisoner ever since. Other than one brief letter home, he has not been heard from, though authorities believe he is alive.

While his image graces billboards across Israel, Gilad Shalit isn’t uppermost in the minds of most American Jews.

Turgeman, who is a program director at the Israel Center of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, wanted to change that.

With Shalit’s 23rd birthday on Friday, Aug. 28, “this is perfect for the synagogues,” Turgeman says.

“How can you gather people? They’re gathered [for Shabbat] anyway. His birthday is one small opportunity to remind people” that he remains in captivity.

Turgeman and the Israel Center sent synagogues what she calls her “Gilad Shalit kit,” which includes a poster, a copy of a letter Shalit wrote to his parents last year, and a moving note from his mother, Hadas Shalit.

One of the rabbis taking up Turgeman’s proposal is Rabbi David Booth of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto. He will talk about Shalit during his Shabbat remarks from the bimah.

“It feels like a nice thing to do in solidarity with the Jewish world,” Booth says. “This is a tragedy. We want this guy to be free. I want him to be able to go to Hebrew University, to get a job, to travel. He has lost this time in service to the Jewish community.”

Also agreeing to take part in the commemoration is Rabbi Jonathan Joffe of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Joffe says, “especially when we in the congregation have a chance to talk about Israel in a way that unites rather than divides.”

He plans to speak about Shalit and to offer up a Mishebeirach (a prayer for the sick and suffering) during Shabbat services.

“[Shalit] has been mentioned in sermons before, especially in the first year,” Joffee adds. “That’s why it’s so important now. He can easily fall through the cracks.”

That doesn’t happen in Israel. There, Shalit is a constant presence. His parents appear often in the media, and a vigil tent has stood across the street from the Israeli prime minister’s Jerusalem residence since the earliest days of the kidnapping.

Over the years, headlines announced breakthroughs in the negotiations to free Shalit, but those breakthroughs have yet to bear fruit. That’s because the price for his freedom usually requires freeing scores of Palestinian prisoners, among them unrepentant terrorists and murderers.

Turgeman thinks most Israelis are willing to pay that price. “When I was in Israel I saw a piece on the news about families who lost [loved ones] in terrorist attacks,” she says. “They said they are willing to have their relatives’ murderers released for Gilad’s sake.”

Like most Israelis, Turgeman served in the Israel Defense Forces. Her 22-year-old brother currently serves in the military. She — along with many others — take Shalit’s abduction personally.

“It could happen to any of the people I know,” she says, “including myself. For Israelis, soldiers are not just soldiers. They are our people.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.