As the CBC radio announcer exclaimed, “Gilad Shalit is back in Israel now…” my eyes filled with tears, and I was overcome with emotion.
I’ve never met the young man whose return I and my community have long-prayed-for. He’s a familiar face among a sea of strangers, someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend, and someone’s neighbor. In terrorist captivity for more than five years, his name has rung clear as a wakeup call among Jews around the world, as we’ve prayed for his safe return, many of us doubting whether he was even still alive.
But he is alive and well and home in the state of Israel, the one place in the world where all Jews are welcome.
Except that his freedom came at a price. I choose to focus on the fact that Israel’s reigning philosophy is to prize every Jew life as if each one represents all Jewish lives. The idea that a nation would rally behind one single soldier, who represents every soldier, every person, every member of a cherished community, is remarkable. So much so that this tiny fraught nation traded hundreds upon hundreds of proven terrorist prisoners, giving them the freedom to incite violence once again upon Israelis and Jews around the world.
It’s a high price to pay, for sure, and one over which many critics and politicians have wagged their fingers at Israel in disappointment. How could you? they cry…but it is a reason that, if you’re not part of the tribe, you may not understand.
Still. As I drove my precious children to school this morning, and I heard the radio announcer proclaim Gilad Shalit’s freedom, I broke into tears.
“It’s a miracle,” I told the kids. “We never thought he’d come home.”
My daughter didn’t understand why I would cry over someone I’d never met.
I explained to her that it’s the secret to Jewish continuity. We cry over our brethren, whether we know them personally or not. We imagine their freedom as precious as ours, their homecoming as if it were our own or one of our precious children’s.
I caressed her round pink cheek as I said it and smoothed her golden hair back from her face.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be captured, Mommy,” she said confidently.
“God forbid,” I murmured, kissing her hair. “Imagine how his mother must feel right now,” I said, new tears arriving at once.