I wanted to write an open letter to Noam and Aviva, but I couldn’t. How could I look them in the eye and say “they’ve given up, they’ve moved on,” “they no longer care?” How could I say “we’ve given up, we’ve moved on,” “we no longer care?” It’s like the streams of people walking past a homeless person, seeing them, but not seeing them, eyes quickly sliding past. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Keep moving forward with your life.
Over the last four months my team at the Community Internet Engagement Project has been working on a revolutionary new campaign for Gilad Shalit. This new campaign was designed to build on the strengths of the Jewish community: our ability to organizations locally and to build networks of affiliates organizations, our ability to share ideas and join together in collective campaigns, our ability to engage globally, and our ability to maintain the local connection between a leader and the members of their community. We had an amazing community, we’ve heard how it was spurred into action for soviet Jewry through the 1960s and 1970s. Surely that community still exists?
We took a lesson from the revolutions in the Middle East, from the way social media spurred social change. First there was the local spark, then the technology catalyst, and finally an explosion of action. We took that on board when planning our online platform. We’ve made it work locally, we made it multilingual, and we made it so each local grassroots organization could have a piece of it and use it to support their activity. We built it so it could be shared not only through Facebook and Twitter, but by physically showing it to strangers on a phone or IPad. Imagine sitting on a train and having the excuse to turn to someone and say, “Do you know about Gilad Shalit?” That’s how a revolution starts.
We drew on modern management science. We wanted the campaign to make a measurable difference. We wanted each person who interacted with it to leave Gilad a personal message, and for the number messages, the number of conversations, and the numbers of strangers spoken to on the train, to be displayed by state, country and globally. We wanted organizations to be able to see how they were contributing to the campaign. We built it so federations could see how their affiliates were doing; who needed help, and who might have a secret to success to share with others.
We built the platform. A few enthusiastic volunteers helped us with translation. We planned to quietly pre-launch the campaign before Pesach, the Festival of Freedom, so the Jewish community organizations could connect it to their Pesach greeting. This year, in captivity, next year, we hope Gilad too will be free. We got ready to roll it out... and then, as we consulted community groups, with many, things went cold. The eyes slid past us. It wasn’t everyone, and some have offered us their enthusiastic support, but where did this apathy, in the most unlikely places, come from?
For many it seemed Gilad was just not a priority. People had “done that campaign.” They were “really busy.” “He’s probably dead” more than one person said. Those of us below the age of 50 have heard from our elders about the great campaigns of the past, like the decades long battle on behalf of soviet Jewry. What happened to the community that ran those campaigns? I fear some of our leaders, and some of our organizations, may have given up on more than Gilad. We may have given up on ourselves, on our community, and on the ability of our organizations to provide more than empty symbolism.
I sit here, taking time out from my studies during the exam period, as I’ve heard so many did during the great campaigns of the past, and I wonder if we have a choice. To give up on Gilad, to give up on our communities’ combined ability to act for good, and to give up on ourselves, goes again conscience. So we’ll put the new MeetGilad.Com platform out there. We’ll invite organizations to register, to get their unique link and to share it with their members in their Pesach greetings, or in their newsletters after Pesach. We’ll put the instructions for translators online so more languages can be added, and a page for the executives of organizations who may want more detail. I’ll publish this article, and trust to you, the reader, to share it and start a revolution within your organizations and within your community. This is a long term campaign, and Gilad is not in our thoughts just for Pesach.
A revolution is what happened in Egypt, not just now, but back in the times of Moses as well. Then like now there was apathy and complaint. Join us in this revolution against apathy, this revolution against those who say no one cares. Against those who say, "are there no graves in Egypt that you have to take us to die in the desert?” Join us in this revolution against empty press releases and empty words; in this revolution for Jewish values, the freeing of captives and the unity of the Jewish people. Perhaps a letter to Noam and Aviva Shalit was not the answer. It’s not them that so badly need this revolution.
The Pesach drive is only the first stage of the campaign. Organizations can register until May 9th and the campaign will run until Gilad’s birthday on August 25th. And if he’s not free then, we’ll just have to find a way to take the campaign to a whole new level.