US Jews to rally on Schalit's birthday

Jewish Agency emissaries urge communities to protest by sending birthday postcards to Red Cross.

schalit rally 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
schalit rally 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Several American Jewish communities will mark the 23rd birthday of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit on Friday with a series of events and rallies, as well as a postcard campaign urging the International Red Cross to visit him. More than three years after Schalit was captured, emissaries from the Jewish Agency, in conjunction with federations and Jewish organizations across North America, are urging Jewish communities to sign postcards to Schalit and send them to the Red Cross as a way of urging the organization to visit him and ensure his safety. A series of educational events and rallies will take place on or around August 28, Schalit's birthday, in participating communities from Minnesota to New Jersey. The campaign - called "Gilad Schalit: Everybody's Child" - comes amid a push by the Schalit family to engage American Jews in the struggle for their son's release. For emissaries organizing and coordinating the events, a main goal is pressuring the IRC to live up to its mandate. "I take it very personally," said Noga Shavit, a Jewish Agency emissary in Minneapolis who said she began to think about Schalit's 23rd birthday and ways the Jewish community could show solidarity with Schalit's parents. "On top of showing solidarity and support and prayers, and the different things we'll do with kids in summer camps and T-shirts people will wear, the most important thing is the postcards we'll distribute," Shavit said. "We think Gilad should be on everyone's agenda all the time," she said. "Our goal is to make sure the Red Cross knows that thousands and thousands of people in the US and Israel call upon them to fulfill its duty" in visiting Schalit, she said. Scheduled during the week of Schalit's birthday, events are set to take place in participating communities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, Denver, Teaneck, Tucson, Columbus, Phoenix, Tulsa, Miami and San Francisco. To be sure, some cities, like Miami, got an early start: In April, the city granted honorary citizenship to Schalit. Last month, one thousand children released balloons to mark his time in captivity. The Miami Jewish community will also participate in the postcard campaign, and in September, students at the University of Miami are planning an Israel event where information about Schalit will be distributed. The events emphasize American Jews' support for Schalit and his family. "We won't rest until he returns," said Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. "He's the personification [of what] Israelis live with every day, particularly those who are members of the IDF." Hunegs, who said an Israel solidarity gathering last year drew 1,000 participants, said 89 percent of Minnesota's Jews felt an attachment to Israel according to a 2004 survey. "For the Jewish people, it's a family issue," said Hunegs, referring to the fate of Schalit and other missing Israeli soldiers. More broadly, he added, "It's an international humanitarian issue." At the Minnesota event, two US Congressmen - Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. Erik Paulsen - are expected to participate. "This speaks to the importance of Gilad Schalit's safe release," Hunegs said. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jewish Agency emissary Itai Lavi said the community of roughly 2,000 is "very, very active" and engaged in Israel issues. Of the birthday events, he said, "It's the only thing we can do, show our caring. We can pray, we can send letters, we can show we care."