Chicago holds vigil for captive IDF soldier

‘Tonight we show the world that this son of Israel and the Jewish people will not be forgotten’

schalit chicago (photo credit: Chicago Jewish Federation)
schalit chicago
(photo credit: Chicago Jewish Federation)
CHICAGO – The mood in this city’s Federal Plaza was bittersweet on Thursday night, as more than 500 Chicagoans gathered to show support for captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
The crowd was somber, noting Schalit’s years in captivity, but also hopeful and prayerful for his safe return to his family.
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The candlelight vigil was held on the eve of the fourth anniversary of Schalit’s abduction outside the Gaza Strip by Hamas. On June 25, 2006, Schalit – then a 19-yearold tank gunner – was kidnapped while guarding Kerem Shalom, one of the border crossings that enable commerce between Israel and Gaza. Two soldiers were killed and three others were wounded, aside from Schalit, during the raid.
“Tonight we gather together with communities around the world – from New York to Rome and from Paris to Jerusalem – in vigil for Gilad Schalit,” said Midge Perlman Shafton, past chairwoman of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, in the evening’s opening remarks. “Tonight we show the world that this son of Israel and the Jewish people will not be forgotten.
Tonight we send a message of solidarity to the Schalit family.
Tonight, our candles, representing hope, provide a beacon of light to Gilad Schalit and other soldiers whose whereabouts are unknown.”
Orli Gil, consul-general of Israel to the Midwest, asked vigil participants to put themselves in the place of Schalit’s family and loved ones.
“Imagine their fears, their hopes, their despair,” she said.
“We can imagine it because we all feel for Gilad and the Schalit family. Because he’s ours and we want him back, as we want and need all our boys back, each and every one of them.”
Gil also explained why his freedom is so important to the State of Israel.
“We ask for the release of Gilad Schalit because it is the right thing to do. Because his being in a cell does not serve any cause. We will continue our efforts for his release as we will continue to strive for peace with our neighbors,” she said.
“We fight for Gilad because he has become a son to all Israelis.
You’re here tonight because you feel he became part of your family as well – a member in the family of the Jewish people, of klal Yisrael.”
David Greenbaum, president of the Jewish United Fund’s Young Leadership Division, read a statement from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Diamond, urging those holding Schalit to grant him contact with his family and humane living conditions.
David T. Brown, chairman of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s government affairs committee, shared the news that US House Resolution 1359, calling for Schalit’s immediate and unconditional release, had just passed unanimously.
Illinois State Senator Ira Silverstein also addressed the gathering.
“We come together with the hope that we won’t come together to memorialize and think about this horrible event [again],” he said. “We are calling on people all over the country…to try to get Gilad released so he can come to America and we can all dance with him in this square next year.”
Oren Dekalo, chairman of the Young Leadership of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, shared his personal connection to Schalit before reciting a poem titled “When You’re Home.”
“I learned some time ago that Gilad Schalit and I have something in common – that is our birthdays, August 28,” Dekalo said. “My wish for Gilad is that for this coming birthday he be able to celebrate his 24th the way I know I’ll be able to celebrate my 29th – in the comfort and in the safety and in the security of his friends and of his loved ones.
May this wish be granted.”
The evening concluded with a prayer for the captive led by Rabbi Daniel Sherbill, president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis, and with a powerful rendition of “Oseh Shalom.”
The vigil was attended by community members of all ages. Gabe Axler, who plans to move to Israel this year with his wife, finished his service in the IDF six months before Gilad was captured. “To me, this is very, very personal,” he said. “His story rings very close to my heart.”
Meital Hoffman, a 12-yearold pupil at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Skokie, attended the vigil with three generations of her family – her grandmother, her mother, and her younger sister all stood by her side. Hoffman, who was born in Jerusalem, understood the importance of gathering in honor of Schalit.
“It’s important for me to be here tonight because it’s a big deal for my family and me about Gilad Schalit and how he was captured,” she said. “It’s nice to express your views on things and not just be sitting at home and watching a movie all night. It’s good to do something and be noticed and make a difference.”
As she stood with her family, Hoffman wished Schalit’s family well. “I’m sure it’s very hard,” she said. “I hope that he is freed soon. They really need that for their family.”
The candlelight vigil was sponsored by the Young Leadership Division and Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, the Hillels of Illinois, and Young Leadership of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.