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Gilad Is Coming Home: A Bittersweet Victory?

Gilad Shalit is to be freed. A deal with Hamas, Israel’s terrorist neighbor, has been struck in which one Israeli soldier (held for 5 years without a Red Cross visit) is to be traded for 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

A bittersweet victory. Celebration mixes with worry.

We celebrate that Gilad is to be freed. We worry that such a trade will make it more likely that Hamas or others will try to kidnap other Israeli soldiers. We kvell that Israel will go to great lengths to bring their soldier-citizens home. We are made anxious that it might appear like Israel is negotiating with terrorists.

As Rabbi Josh Hammerman explains:

For Jews, this is a classic search for the lesser of the evils, a choice we’re quite experienced at making. The Talmud considers “Pidyon Shevuyim,” the rescue of captives, to be among the highest of priorities (Bava Batra 8b) and later legal authorities concur. Medieval Jewish communities often were called upon to pony up big bucks to redeem kidnapped kin. In contemporary Israel, it has become standard practice to swap busloads of prisoners for one captive soldier, or even for his remains.

How do we reconcile these complex feelings? The Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism released this statement which concludes:

The Book of Ecclesiastes, which we read on the festival of Sukkot, teaches us that “there is a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” The reality of life in Israel often requires us to laugh and cry at the same time; to dance while we are still mourning. We will continue to cherish the memory of the victims of terror even as our hearts fill with joy as God returns Gilad to his family. 

Here are a few thought-provoking articles:

  • Everyone’s Son (Gilad Shalit is Every Israeli’s Son) by Yossi Klein HaLevy in Tablet Magazine.  In opposing the mass release of terrorists in exchange for Gilad Shalit’s freedom, I felt as if I was betraying my own son.
  • A Thousand Terrorists for Shalit? Rabbi Joshua Hammerman in The Jewish Week.  Is the release of Gilad Shalit worth an exchange of a thousand Hamas prisoners, including some who have blood on their hands and could well kill more innocent Israelis (and others)?

We conclude with a Prayer from Rabbi Joel Simmonds:

M’kor Chayim (Source of Life), as we enter this holiday of Sukkot we are reminded of the command to be joyful.

As this festival is called Z’man Simchateinu, the time of our joy, we enter it with a cautious pinch of optimism.

As we welcome guests into our Sukkot we rejoice as Gilad Shalit will be welcomed back into the Sukkat Shalom of Eretz Yisrael.

Just as our Sukkot are temporary dwellings; fragile and vulnerable to the elements, so too is the hope for peace.

May our feet dance with added joy in our Sukkot this year and may the temporary joy spill into this new year as Gilad our son and brother is permanently home.

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