It was 1:00 in the afternoon this past Monday, and the crowd I expected was nowhere in sight. Was this a mistake?
I had in my calendar that at 1:00, there would be a special gathering at the tent of the family of Gilad Shalit, abducted and incarcerated by Hamas for 1716 days. I got there at around 12:40, and signed up for supporting the cause of Gilad’s immediate and unconditional release, got some bumper stickers, watched a few other people do the same, and then waited. And waited. Until 1:00, by which time I was sure a special program was going to begin.
It never happened. Even though my personal i-phone calendar said it was supposed to.
In trying to understand the deeper spiritual significance of this blunder, I imagined that maybe God brought me to this tent today for a special purpose. As a new blogger on JPost.com, I asked myself, “Self, what should you be doing here? What do you want your readers to know about this place?”
I sat quietly in the tent of the family of Gilad Shalit, a small sukkah-like structure with several chairs, heaters, a table in the middle with flowers and some prayerbooks, and a wide variety of small posters and flyers hanging above eye level. I wanted to sit and absorb the loneliness and misery of this location, adjacent to the Prime Minister’s office. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to be in Gilad’s family, waiting and hoping, hoping against hope that Gilad will come home alive so that everyone can exhale after 1716 long days. It’s an excruciatingly long time to be holding your breath and putting your life on hold.
The Shalit tent is one way that Gilad’s plight has been publicized. Courageously, his parents Noam and Aviva have traveled the world to speak to movers and shakers, trying to convey the right words that will open the hearts of those with the power to do something. Schools and synagogues world-wide have raised funds and mailed cards and letters to world leaders, asking for their kind intervention in this ghastly story of an innocent soldier at the whims of Hamas, who has let neither family nor the Red Cross in to see him in nearly 5 years. Just this week, the Knesset Lobby for Gilad Shalit visited the Ofer Prison, where MKs renewed complaints regarding the inequality between Hamas prisoners’ conditions and those of the Gilad. Also this week, students from the Amit School in Petach Tikvah rallied for Gilad in Tel Aviv, while thousands of Canadians took part in an online protest calling for Gilad’s release. While driving around, I saw a group of 50 students on a field trip of some sort, all of them wearing a Gilad Shalit sweatshirt.
I sat in the Shalit tent, quietly, pensively, distracted by a woman knitting something, not knowing who she was until someone came in and said hi to Aviva, Gilad’s mother. Aviva was knitting, and taking calls, and responding to those who came in to shower her with kisses and support. I took out a notepad and began writing the words on the various posters, most of them in Hebrew:
“Do you think the price of Gilad’s release is too costly? Come closer…” (In the silhouette of Gilad’s face was a mirror, so you could see yourself in his place)
“What about Gilad’s human rights?”
“Gilad, the nation misses you!”
“And the children will return to their borders”
“Gil,Ad matai?” (A play on words in Hebrew, Gilad, how long?)
“Yom Kippur Eve, and there is no pardon- not for the Prime Minister, not for the head of Security, until Gilad is released” (across the street from the tent reads this sign: Sara and Bibi, I’m in captivity for 1716 days…where are YOU?”
Next to Aviva is a chair with a hopeful message taped on it: This seat reserved for Gilad Shalit. Underneath it is a basket, labeled “letters for Gilad,” and there is a mailbox outside the tent identically marked. Near the tent they are selling yellow ribbons, to wear or to place on something, to let the world know of the agony of waiting and waiting with no word about Gilad. What more can be done for this boy, everyone’s son and brother? Something has been planned for Tuesday, March 15 at 11:00 in the morning.
In the traditional prayerbook, there is a prayer called Tachanun, during which we bend forward and place our head on an arm while reciting a paragraph of contrition. Then we come to a line which says, “and we just don’t know what to do”, and the prayerbook directs us to rise. The commentators teach that we rise, because in this prayer, we have sat, and we have bent over, and so now we rise, because “we just don’t know what to do.” We’re just not sure what posture of ours will get God’s compassionate attention.
For Gilad, we have marched and run, we have walked and bent over in anguish and pain. We have raised our voices in songs of redemption and prayers for freedom. We have sat in synagogues and homes to offer Psalms for Gilad, and many women have stood at their Shabbat candles every Friday night, beseeching God to watch over Gilad as they lovingly watch over their own children. After 1716 days, we just don’t know what to do. But maybe we can hope that a new posture, simply standing still as part of a tapestry of Jewish and human empathy, will make a difference.
The newest poster near the Shalit tent reads: March 15, a 5-minute demonstration for Gilad Shalit…just 5 minutes, but all of us, Tuesday, March 15 at 11 in the morning, the entire country will stand outside for 5 minutes, to demand from the government to bring Gilad home.
Before I left the Shalit tent, I pledged that with God’s help, I will participate in this national demonstration on Tuesday, March 15 at 11:00am. I was not unaware that while I sat for a half hour, there was foot traffic and regular traffic moving by the tent the whole time. How easily we can take for granted our own freedom of movement, even as a precious child of Israel is severely restricted in his own. Maybe Aviva’s knitting was a symbol of the cosmic bringing together of people of conscience, all of whom standing outside for 5 minutes will help fill that empty chair next to her.
As I left, I wished Aviva only good news, for her family and for all Israel. With our collective help, may it be so.
Rabbi Elan Adler is an American Rabbi who made aliyah last July, and is available for life cycle events and other occasions. Visit his website elanadler.com for more details