karnit goldwasser 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Amid banners urging: "Don't let apathy kill them," some 3,000 students and soldiers, along with members of the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors, kicked off a weeklong effort Sunday to urge foreign governments to work toward the release of abducted IDF soldiers Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
Sunday night's rally at the Jerusalem International Convention Center marked the start of events worldwide in support of the soldiers' return. An International Day of Solidarity on Tuesday aims to be the largest demonstration of support for the soldiers so far.
The World Student Solidarity Event for the Kidnapped Soldiers was a collaborative effort by the Jewish Agency's Education Department and the WZO's Hagshama youth division.
Some 40 rallies will take place in 70 cities around the world, including in the United States, The Netherlands, Ukraine and Canada.
One of the largest will be Tuesday's demonstration in New York in front of the Syrian and Iranian embassies to the UN.
In Jerusalem, Ze'ev Bielski, chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, said, "The world is not doing enough to bring these three back."
Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, also spoke at the rally, relating how she was coping with her husband's kidnapping in July 2006 and her constant questioning of whether he had adequate living conditions. She encouraged the crowd not "to give sympathy to the families, who are doing fine," but to take action to help bring the soldiers back.
Sunday's assembly strove to transmit "a message to the families that says it's not just in Israel and New York, it's worldwide" that people support the return of the soldiers, said founding partner Lior Solomon of Hagshama, which was established nine years ago to foster young Jewish adults' involvement with Israel.
"This is a solidarity event, not a political stage," said Solomon. "Students today are leaders tomorrow. That generates change."
Despite tensions between the Jewish Agency and the WZO, the two organizations came together last year to form the Student Forum, which unites students internationally in "one nation, one community of Jews and one family," said head of Hagshama Gael Grunewald.
Thursday's rally, as well as all the international events to follow throughout the next week, were "organized by students and aimed specifically at students," said Solomon.
Among those attending were participants from long-term programs organized by Masa, the Jewish Agency, Hillel, Young Judaea and Habanim. Hundreds of soldiers also attended, as well as more than 500 olim.
"Walking in, with this many Jews, it makes us feel like there are so many more of us than there actually are," said Jamie Serelson, a Young Judaea participant from Lake Worth, Florida.
Organizers stressed that the rally and the week of events, though all in support of the release of IDF soldiers, were not specifically Jewish in nature. "This is a human rights issue," said Rinat Bialer of the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption. "When you come to Israel, no matter who you are, you find a responsibility and partnership with an Israeli family. It's not just a government responsibility to work for this."