A story of an unlikely friendship

'When the Shark and the Fish First Met' was written by captured soldier Gilad Schalit when he was 11.

fish and shark 1 (photo credit: Courtesy)
fish and shark 1
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It's a simple fairy tale, a story of a shark and a fish that overcome their mothers' mutual suspicions and fears to become friends. But what makes the story even more powerful is the all-too-real and painful fact that IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit, who was captured by Hamas terrorists in Gaza in June 2006, is the author. Schalit wrote "When the Shark and the Fish First Met" when he was 11 years old for a fifth-grade school assignment. The story lay forgotten in his teacher's house until she found it last spring, while cleaning her house for Pessah. Now, in a volunteer endeavor, "When the Shark and the Fish First Met" has been illustrated by well-known Israeli artists such as David Gerstein and Michele Kishka and turned into an exhibit scheduled to travel around the country this year. The illustrated version, put out by Kinneret Publishing House, went on sale on January 6. All proceeds from the book will go to the Habanim organization (www.habanim.org), dedicated to freeing Schalit as well as kidnapped reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. In stark, simple language, the story is about a "small and gentle fish" swimming in the ocean who sees a shark about to devour it. The fish entreats the shark to play with him instead of eating him. They play together happily, but at home, the fish's mother warns him not to play with the shark because "it devoured your father and your brother." The shark's mother also tells the shark that fish are to be eaten, not played with. After a long time, the two meet again and the shark tells the fish, "You are my enemy, but maybe we can make peace." The two continue to meet secretly and eventually reveal their deep and abiding friendship to their mothers. "This is a universal story," explains Lee Rimon de Lange, who co-owns the Edge Gallery in Nahariya with her husband, Itschak, and who conceived the exhibit. She discovered the tale some six months ago and was touched by its message. "The story appeals to people all over the world. It's not just Israelis and Arabs. It's a story about two people who want to be friends," she says. De Lange says she then appealed to Noga Schimmel, chairwoman of the Israeli Illustrators Society, to see if any of its artists would be interested in volunteering to illustrate the story and be part of the exhibit. (The original version was illustrated by Schalit's mother, Aviva Schalit, who could not be reached for comment). Schimmel sent letters to the IIS's members, asking them if they would donate their time and talent to illustrate the story. She didn't know what their response would be, and was delighted that so many agreed to pitch in. Schimmel and De Lange worked with Aviva Schalit and Miri Krymolowski, an art critic for Israel Radio who served as curator. The four women divided the story into frames, and then each artist chose which one he or she wanted to illustrate. Schimmel, who has illustrated children's books, agreed to illustrate a frame that no other artist wanted. "It's the frame when the fish and the shark didn't meet," she confides. "It's a painting of an empty sea." The illustrators all worked on the story with a lot of love, Schimmel says. "They worked with a goal in mind." Krymolowski added that she had hoped the exhibit's art would be of a high enough quality to attract national, if not international attention, and that she was very pleased with the results. Once the artists finished, the next challenge was getting the illustrations (now valuable works of art in and of themselves) to the gallery in Nahariya. Volunteers agreed to drive the work to the north, all without taking out an insurance policy. "On principle, we don't have insurance on this art, because the soldiers have no insurance," de Lange says. The story is reminiscent, says de Lange, of the Biblical story in the book of Isaiah of the wolf who dwells with the lamb - and "a little boy will lead them." De Lange says that Schalit is like that little boy, and his story is an appeal for peace. "It's clear from this tale Schalit understood how to 'conquer' with love," she says. "I'm sure wherever he is being held by Hamas, he is talking to his captors. He must be talking to them," she believes. Krymolowski says that while art can't bring back Schalit and the other soldiers, she hopes the story will help keep the public aware of the soldiers' predicament. "We don't want the captured soldiers to simply fade away," she explains. "When the Shark and the Fish First Met" is included on the Habanim Web site and De Lange hopes that children around the world will log on, download the story and color it themselves. The coloring books can then be sent in and included in the exhibit. The story already appears online in Hebrew, Arabic and English and has been translated into Russian, French, Italian, and Spanish. De Lange hopes translations will be available in as many languages as possible. The show is currently running at the Edge Gallery in Nahariya. From February 10, it will be at the Monart Museum in Ashdod. From Ashdod, it will travel to Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva and Jerusalem, among other cities. For further information and to download the story, visit habanim.org. The Edge Gallery is located at 34 Lochamei HaGettaot Street in Nahariya. The book will be launched at the gallery on January 12 at 7:30 p.m.