Tuesday, October 11, 2011

American Jews expressing relief and joy at Shalit’s impending release

(JewishJournal staff writers). Reacting to news of the proposed deal between Israel and Hamas that could see captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned to Israel in the coming days, after more than five years in captivity, Israelis in the United States, as well as American Jewish leaders, expressed happiness and relief Tuesday, even as they acknowledged discomfort at the price of the soldier’s freedom.

“It’s what we prayed for and hoped for,” Eli Tene, co-chair of the Los Angeles-based Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), said Tuesday.

Gal Sitty, 28, a Studio City resident raised money last summer for a “Free Gilad Shalit” billboard that was displayed outside the United Nations in New York - - paid for through a crowd funding website, Epicstep.com. On Tuesday, Sitty reacted with jubilation to the announcement.

“I think it’s absolutely great that he’s finally going to go home to his family, and his parents and his brother can continue to have a normal life again,” Sitty said.

Although Sitty has occasionally been in contact with Shalit’s girlfriend, Ya’ara Winkler, via email, he said he hadn’t been expecting the news.

“I learned about it the way everyone else did … on Twitter. I’m still digesting the news … of course I was hoping for it, but after five long years it’s hard to comprehend that it can come at any given time and I’m glad that it did,” he said.

“This is joyous news to start the New Year,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

American Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum appeared to uniformly welcome the news, albeit in varying tones.

Americans for Peace Now (APN), in an emailed statement, expressed hope that the deal “will open better channels of communications between the Israeli government and Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

“This is a magnificent moment for the people of Israel, those of us who have been working for Gilad’s release the past 5 years, and, above all, for the Shalit family,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Gilad’s prolonged captivity, internationally condemned for its cruel isolation, has been a painful daily challenge for a country where mandatory military service for young men and women is a shared national experience. The supreme importance of Gilad’s return is underscored by the difficult decision Israel’s leaders had to make in exchange: the release of 1000 terrorist prisoners many of whom are associated with the murder of Israeli men, women and children.”

“Gilad’s imprisonment has been an ongoing agony for Israel and the Jewish people. What an unimaginable relief his impending release must be for his family,” said JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles. We are immensely relieved that this painful chapter for Israel and the Shalit family appears finally to be ending. How appropriate that this announcement coincides with the beginning of the holiday of Sukkot, known in Hebrew as z’man simchateinu, ‘the season of our rejoicing.’”

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said he had visited the Shalit family tent in Jerusalem “on one or two occasions” over the years, and said his feelings could be best expressed using two terms from the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers: kheel and ra’adah, which he translated as exultation and trembling.

“It’s a combination of excitement, that the prayers of millions to reunite Gilad with his family—who doesn’t want to see that happen?” Cooper said. “And the shaking is that for now, only the Israeli government knows what the price tag is.”