Local groups, leaders gather to celebrate Shalits release

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Bay Area Jews marked the Oct. 18 release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit with celebrations across the region.

“David Ben-Gurion said that to be a realist in Israel, you have to believe in miracles,” said Michal Kohane, the director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Israel Center. “These past few days, we saw a miracle come true.”

Kohane was speaking at one of several local gatherings, an early morning meeting organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council at the federation building in downtown San Francisco.

On short notice, Mayor Ed Lee, Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor and members of the Consulate General of France joined some four dozen community leaders to watch a live feed from Israeli television.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (left) greets Israeli Consul General Akiva Tor at a gathering to watch unfolding events in Israel. photo/ohad salmon

As scenes of Israelis rejoicing in the streets flickered across the big screen, the San Francisco participants intoned a prayer of thanksgiving for Shalit’s safe return, in Hebrew and English, that had been written that same morning by Israel’s Conservative (Masorti) movement.

Pointing out that San Francisco made Shalit an honorary citizen in August on the occasion of his 25th birthday, Lee expressed his satisfaction with the deal that freed the Israeli soldier after more than five years in Hamas captivity.

“We issued our proclamation with the hope that this soldier, who was doing his job, would get a release and the humanitarian treatment we felt he deserved,” the mayor said.

“This is indeed a time to rejoice,” said Corinne Pereira, France’s deputy consul general, who reminded the crowd that Shalit is also a French citizen.

Tor gave a particularly heartfelt address, noting that observant Jews pray for pidyon ha’shvuim, the release of captives, three times a day.

“This is a very gratifying moment for Israelis and the Jewish community here, a mark of our deep solidarity,” he said. “This morning, a weight has fallen from our hearts.”

Tor recognized the lopsided nature of exchanging 1,027 jailed Palestinians for Shalit, saying, “It’s a little bit unbearable that we’ve let go people who should be in prison for the rest of their lives.

“We understand clearly the result of the deal will incur further bloodshed,” he added. “There’s concern that it will be interpreted as weakness. But I feel it is a mark of our resilience.”

A similar event was held at the Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos, where the Consulate General of Israel partnered with many local congregations, BBYO, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley, the Jewish National Fund, Kehillah Jewish High School and others for a Shacharit service and celebration of Shalit’s return.

At U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco State University, Hillel groups on campus gathered in sukkahs and invited students to stop and share thoughts on the meaning of the momentous day.

“It was very emotional,” said Yochai Shavit, Israel Fellow at San Francisco Hillel, “because this is something that our students have been involved in not only for the past week, since we learned that the deal was about to come to fruition, but all throughout the past five years.”

Students at SFSU moved the sukkah to the plaza stage temporarily and took to the quad to distribute flyers celebrating Shalit’s release and explaining the gravity of the prisoner exchange.

“I think it made a huge impact on the general student body just to learn that Israel released over 1,000 prisoners for the life and freedom of one soldier,” Shavit said. “It was a place for students to learn, hear and share. And there was definitely more than one teary eye in the crowd.”

J. editor Sue Fishkoff and staff writer Emma Silvers contributed to this report.