Five Years Too Many
I returned last week from leading a birthright trip – a whirlwind ten day adventure in Israel for forty young Jewish adults experiencing Israel for the first time. It was an amazing experience where I was able to witness many new connections formed with Judaism and Israel for the participants. These connections manifested themselves in different ways for each participant whether it was standing at the Kotel (Western Wall) for the first time recognizing that Jewish spirituality has existed for thousands of years, staring out from Masada contemplating the fight for independence our people has long endured or going out at night in Tel Aviv and realizing that young Israelis like to have fun just like young Americans.
What was probably the most powerful experience for the participants (and for me) was having a group of Israeli soldiers join our trip for five days. Watching the Americans realize that while they are busy studying, taking tests and being involved on their college campuses, these young people are busy patrolling borders, gathering intelligence and putting their lives literally on the line every day, was extremely powerful. One story that stuck with the participants was the story of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas five years ago this week, and held in captivity in Gaza ever since.
Shalit has been held in Gaza without access from the Red Cross and without basic humanitarian rights while repeated attempts to negotiate his release have failed. Hamas has not offered any proof that he is still alive since October 2009 and his family occupies a permanent vigil outside of the Prime Minister’s house in Jerusalem working for his release.
President Obama called for Shalit’s release last week and other international organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, joined in calling for his release.
There is also a bill in Congress sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) calling for Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release. You can help by clicking here and sending a letter to your Representative urging them to cosponsor and vote for this bill.