August 23, 2019

Celebrating Gilad: The most joyous Sukkot of our lives

When my wife Peni and I decided to take our kids to Israel for Sukkot, we knew that we would have a great time. We knew that Sukkot, referred to in our prayers as “Zman Simchateinu” (“Our time to rejoice”) would especially be celebratory in Israel. But we never could have imagined what awaited us.

On the second day of our trip, towards evening time, we were in a unique t-shirt store in Jerusalem that sold special t-shirts with images of different charities and social justice organizations, with half the proceeds going to the charity. My kids Shira and Ilan bought some cool t-shirts, but the store had run out of the one t-shirt that the kids really wanted – “Free Gilad Shalit.” The t-shirt sparked a discussion amongst us about Gilad Scahlit, wondering if we would ever see the day that he would walk free again with his family and his people. Remarkably, just two hours later, my friend and colleague Israel Shalem calls me all excited: “Did you hear the news? Gilad is coming home!” All choked up, I screamed out to my family with joy “He’s coming home – you don’t need the t-shirt anymore, he’s coming home!” We ran out with Israel Shalem to the tent that the Shalits had set up for the last several years opposite the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Swarmed by press and celebrating Israelis, the Shalits were calm and composed, and said “We will not celebrate until we actually see him in front of us.”

That miraculous moment came just a few days later, when an entire country sat by their televisions with anticipation, waiting to see “Israel’s son” come back to the arms of his parents. Words cannot describe how moved we all were to see him salute and hug Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. But the real tear-jerking moment came when Noam and Aviva Shalit – Gilad’s parents – were finally able to hug their beloved boy.

I have been to Israel many, many times, and spent many years of my life here. Never have I felt such electricity in the air, such solidarity in the street, and such overwhelmingly positive emotions everywhere. This is a true “Zman Simchateinu – Our Time to Rejoice.” It is our time to rejoice, not only to see Gilad come home, but to celebrate being part of a nation and people that do what nobody else would do – trade away over a thousand terrorists, all to bring home one Jewish boy. Our ethics and morals may often cost us, but it’s nothing I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.

This coming Shabbat, we begin anew the annual cycle of Torah reading. We begin the Torah with Parashat Beresheet – the Book of Genesis. This symbolic time for new beginnings is complemented by an amazingly appropriate, timely and prophetic Haftarah that we read this coming Shabbat, a section from the Book of Isaiah. The haftarah this week reads:

I am the Lord…Opening the eyes of those deprived of light, rescuing prisoners from confinement, and rescuing from the dungeon those who sit in darkness…Because you are precious to Me, And honored, and I love you, I give men in exchange for you and peoples in your stead.

This is God’s policy, and it’s the policy of Israel to this very day. Welcome home, Gilad, we love you dearly. Indeed, how good it is that you have come home.