אחינו כל בית-ישראל, הנתונים בצרה ובשביה
העומדים בין בים ובין ביבשה
המקום ירחם עליהם ויוציאם מצרה לרווחה
ומאפלה לאורה ומשעבוד לגאולה
השתא בעגלא ובזמן קריב
Our siblings, the entire family of Israel, who are in distress and captivity, whether they are on sea or land, may God have mercy on them and remove them from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from subjugation to redemption, now, speedily,and soon...
The weekday Shaharit Torah service
Seated on benches, the campers paid close attention to the counselor at the front of the room. After a brief explanation, they were repeating the words of the prayer right after she recited them and before you knew it, they were standing and singing. The words were powerful. They meant something different now than they had just a moment ago. Campers were connected to the tefillah and to the person for whom they were praying. The words of the prayer, typed above, were sung with kavvanah - intention - and spiritual power. The tune was beautiful and, at the same time, hauntingly sad. So started the morning for the Shoafim (entering 8th graders) whose tefillot I was visiting. This scene was replicated in the morning services of all the other aidot at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as we work to heighten the awareness of our campers and staff members, our communities, and the entire world, to the plight of Gilad Shalit.
Today, we commemorate exactly four years since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped at the Gaza border by Hamas. 1,461 days exactly. I used to think that only numbers much larger were really inconceivable. Staring at this number, however, 1,461 days alone, is far beyond my comprehension. His precise whereabouts unknown, Gilad Shalit is a captive. He is alone, cut off from the world, from his People, from his State, and, most important, from his family. Deprived once again of even a simple visit from the International Red Cross, the world has no idea what his condition actually is, be it his physical, psychological, or his spiritual condition. Sadly, the world remains far too silent.
On Tuesday, Machon campers learned in depth about the story of Gilad, his life and his military service, his family, and his courage. On Wednesday morning, Machon (entering 10th graders) spent the morning researching the approaches of different international news sources to the conflict in the Middle East and then "interviewed" key people in the story of Gilad Shalit. This was followed by a mock press conference. Campers gained greater insight into the positions of the various players in the entire story, deepening their sense of the importance of freeing Gilad.
Since Gilad Shalit's kidnapping, there has been a tent in front of the Prime Minister's home in Jerusalem. The tent is occupied all the time by volunteers and family members. There are regular demonstrations at the tent calling the attention of the world to Gilad Shalit's situation. People leave notes and photos. They make posters and they demonstrate. Thursday morning, Machon made a similar tent just off the kikar with posters of Gilad, posters demanding his release and calling on the world to require his freedom. They created model letters to members of Congress, diplomats at the U.N., as well as letters to Gilad's family. Throughout the day, campers entered the tent and were told the story of Gilad Shalit. They wrote letters, the put up notes, they made posters, they put on stickers that said: הצילו! Before dinner, a group of shlichim and American staff members sat on the kikar and sang somber songs of freedom in Hebrew. On Friday, there will be an all-camp ceremony in honor of Gilad Shalit.
If the number 1,461 days is inconceivable, the passion for Israel and the concern for Gilad Shalit and his family at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is not. Campers and staff members are learning about Gilad Shalit from members of our mishlachat. They are learning that they can make a difference in the world and that their voices matter. They are becoming aware that it is a mitzvah to redeem captives. They are discovering the complexity of the matter on the one hand and its total simplicity on the other. And they are learning that even after 1,461 days, it is forbidden to give up hope for his release. It is our fervent hope that we will be able to celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit soon, that we will rejoice with him in his return to Israel, and that we will be able to invite him to Camp to dance with us.
Until that day, however,
We will keep counting...
We will keep hoping...
We will keep praying...
We will keep working for his release for he is our sibling, he is in distress, and he deserves light, freedom, and healing soon, speedily, and now.
We invite you to join us in saying the following prayer on Gilad Shalit's behalf, composed by the Masorti Movement, our counterpart in Israel:
"May God who blessed our forebears Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, take pity on the abducted prisoner Gilad son of Aviva and Noam Schalit. May God who releases the bound strengthen the hand of those who hold office in the Holy Land that with wisdom and resolution they redeem Gilad from his dank, dark cell. May God who heals the sick of the people Israel send Gilad healing, both emotional and physical, and may the Source of all strength strengthen Gilad’s resolve in his lengthy incarceration. May it be God’s pleasure that speedily the scripture be fulfilled which says, “And God’s ransomed shall return home, and come with exultation to Zion, crowned with everlasting happiness. They shall attain joy and gladness, and sorrow and pining shall be dispersed.”
May this be God’s Will and let us say Amen."
(Shalit Tent in Jerusalem image from MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)