Vbooth, rabbi david
Vbooth, rabbi david

Join together, pray for Gilad Shalit

In June of 2006, Palestinians kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit near the border with Gaza. They came through a tunnel near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, surprising the Israeli detachment there and successfully capturing Cpl. Shalit.

Rabbi David Booth

Since that time, he has been heard from only twice: once in a video released by his captors, and a second time through a letter to his mother. Israeli intelligence believes that he is still alive, though they have no idea what his condition might be.

Shalit began his service in the Israel Defense Forces after high school graduation. Israeli law requires three years of military service for young men, meaning that Israelis sacrifice three years of their life between college and high school to serve their country and the Jewish people.

These young men and women don’t set policy. They don’t make decisions about security barriers or prisoner exchanges or border crossings and their politics vary exactly in proportion to Israeli public opinion generally. I just want him free to go on with his life.

Since Shalit’s capture, there have been numerous efforts to free him, including a prisoner exchange in January of this year in which 1,000 Palestinians were scheduled to be released in exchange for Shalit’s freedom. That deal fell apart as has each subsequent attempt.

Shalit is turning 23 this Shabbat, on Friday, Aug. 28.

When I was 23, I celebrated my first wedding anniversary in Jerusalem. I was in my third year of rabbinic school, with a life of hope and possibility stretching out in front of me. My life was just starting out, as I began the process of preparing for my career, for the beginnings of a family.

Shalit has lost these last three years of possibility and promise. They are gone forever as he sits in a prison in conditions impossible to guess.

The Torah and rabbinic literature are filled with practices and rules for freeing captives. In an era in which Jews were routinely kidnapped, it was considered a great community mitzvah to free a captive. When one Jew is unjustly held, it creates an obligation on all of us.

Here in the United States, where few of us send our children to serve in the IDF, it is easy to forget about Shalit.

But we are Jews. And what we are best at is memory.

So it’s time for us to commit to remembering Gilad Shalit and praying and advocating for his release. So that he can go to college, or travel to Turkey, or start a business. So that he can meet a girl or go out hiking. So that he can resume his life in freedom, amid the remarkable opportunity of the land of Israel. We must remember, because one when Jew is held unjustly, all of us are obligated to aid in securing his release.

I pray for peace in Israel and throughout the Middle East every day. What a joy it would be to start the Jewish year with Shalit being freed by his Palestinian captors. What a statement they could make to the world by his freedom that they want to talk peace, they are ready to be serious in finding soon and speedily a means to create a Palestinian state that sits strong and at peace with a thriving Israel.

We as a people have never given up hope even in our darkest moments. Now is the time for hope, for prayer, in the desire to soon see our prayers fulfilled by Shalit’s freedom.

May the God of our ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, preserve and protect Gilad Shalit.

May he be held safe from harm, and healed from any injuries. May his family find strength and courage in the midst of this long and frightening captivity and may Gilad feel God’s presence with him in this dark place of exile.

And may God’s mercy incline the hearts of his captors to free Gilad Shalit and to allow him to celebrate the new Jewish year with his family, with his friends and looking forward to a hope filled future.

We join together with Jews throughout the world in wishing Gilad Shalit a happy birthday filled with hope and the promise of freedom.

Rabbi David Booth is the spiritual leader of Conservative Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto.