September 9, 2009
Marking Gilad Shalit’s Birthday
One thousand, one-hundred, sixty-nine days, 17 hours, 36 minutes and 22 seconds. That’s how long Gilad Shalit had spent in captivity as of Sunday night, Sept. 6, as 250 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community gathered at American Jewish University (AJU) to mark the soldier’s 23rd birthday.
The community event, sponsored by the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), AJU and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, was the first of its kind in Los Angeles to publicly address the subject.
“Israelis here care about Gilad Shalit’s fate,” said Shoham Nicolet, ILC executive director. “But they talk about it in their own homes. When you talk to any Israeli here, they know the facts; they know what the latest developments are. They just haven’t addressed it in public before.”
The impetus for the event, three years after Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas on June 25, 2006, came from the Israeli community. Two Israelis, Hofit Kahan and Yanir Dekel, approached Nicolet, outraged that other U.S. cities were honoring Shalit’s fourth birthday in captivity but Los Angeles, the city with the largest population of Israelis outside of Israel, had nothing planned.
A week and a half later, Los Angeles had an event.
A large-screen image of a ticking clock on stage showed the time Shalit has been held in Gaza. The two-hour program included an excerpt of a recorded message from Shalit released by Hamas in June 2007, the only audio message since he was abducted. “Mother and father, my sister and brother, my friends in the IDF, I greet you from prison and miss you all.”
Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who starred in this summer’s “Angels & Demons,” read a letter from Noam and Aviva Shalit, Gilad’s parents. “Forgive us for being unable to protect you and prevent the great pain you suffer,” the letter said. “We’re sorry we have not been able to bring you home.”
Later, organizers played a video message from Noam Shalit, recorded specifically for the Los Angeles event, in which he thanked attendees for supporting his family and not giving up hope for his son’s safe return. Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan echoed Noam’s persistence.
“We’re here to tell the world that we will not give up,” Dayan said. “We will not stop until we bring him home…. Show me one country in the world willing to sacrifice so much for one human being. Show me one country that brings to life the saying, ‘One for all, and all for one.’”
In a presentation devoid of politics, Karin Lapidot and Cantor Ilan Davidson sang songs, dancers performed a piece choreographed by Kobi Rozenfeld and there was a reading of a children’s story written by Shalit when he was 10 years old.
“This event is not about putting pressure on the Israeli government to act,” said Eli Tene, co-chair of the ILC. The organizers opted for this format, rather than a demonstration, Tene said, to avoid encouraging Hamas to become even bolder in their demands. “The purpose of this gathering is to show support for Gilad’s family. It’s about bringing the community together.”
After the event, Nicolet expressed the belief that a deal is close at hand. “The message from Israel is that something is going on,” he said. “We received the directive that it’s time now to be quiet.”
Dayan would not comment on the status of negotiations, saying only that the Israeli government is working hard to bring Shalit home so he can spend his next birthday with his family.
In the corner of the stage stood a decorated birthday chair, an Israeli tradition, with several gift-wrapped boxes strewn around it. Behind the empty chair, the clock on the screen continued to tick away the seconds, minutes, hours and days.