Rabbi Menachem Creditor
On May 18, 2003, Smadar Haran Kaiser wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled "The World Should Know What He Did to My Family." The 'he' was Samir Kuntar, a terrorist who attacked an Israeli family in 1979, murdering a 28 year-old man, his two daughters ages four and two, and an Israeli policeman. Smadar, the only survivor of the murder of her husband and daughters, wrote 24 years later:
"One hears the terrorists and their excusers say that they are driven to kill out of desperation. But there is always a choice. Even when you have suffered, you can choose whether to kill and ruin another's life, or whether to go on and rebuild."
It is Smadar's words that ring loudest today. Today, June 29, 2008, Israel agreed to a deal in which Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two Israel Defense Forces reservists kidnapped by Hezbollah two years ago in an act that sparked the Second Lebanon War, are to be released in a prisoner exchange deal with Hezbollah approved by the cabinet on Sunday. In exchange for the captive soldiers, Israel will release jailed terrorist Samir Kuntar, and others.
But the exchange is even more bitter than 'simply' releasing an evil person, a murderer. Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser are likely dead. We are freeing a murderer in exchange for the bodies of our sons.
We have been including them in our prayers every Shabbat, in our hearts even more often. When we celebrate our young, we note the small age gap between our teens and our lost sons, our stolen brothers.
Our prayers have not been in vain. Today, Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, took Prime Minister Olmert's hand, and with red-rimmed eyes said: "I've been fighting for two years, and I feel that in the end, even if I won, what has it all been for? So I can shout 'Hooray, I'm a widow'?" Olmert listened, and the tears coursed down his cheeks. Our heartfelt prayers have been collecting in a very special place, waiting to allow two widows and a country, our family, to weep, knowing they are not alone. And they are not. We are not alone.
Today is a complicated day. We will soon shift from the mishebeirach we've been reciting for Goldwasser and Regev to reciting Kaddish for them. We will be able to bury our dead. There might be news as to the fate of Ron Arad as part of this exchange. And Gilad Shallit is still being held captive by Hamas. Our hearts, newly broken again, will beat even faster when we say his name. Our misheberachs will deepen with urgency.
The news articles today (see below for a sampling of both Israeli and World pieces) are largely supportive of the difficult position Israel is in, and correctly portray terrorists as terrorists and soldiers as soldiers. But that might not be the depiction for long in the world media, nor is it likely to be understood this way by Hezbollah and Hamas, who are preparing a hero's welcome for Samir Kuntar, a man who chose to kill. If we are not attuned to our own story, checking haaretz.com and ynetnews.com regularly, we are likely to be confused in light of the ever-changing eye on Israel in the media.
Is this a good decision? Who can tell. Is negotiation better than war? Absolutely. Will the future find us making more mishebeirach's? Please God, no.
Two summers ago I was leading a shul Israel pilgrimage. We were on the Kotel Tunnels Tour, a simply breathtaking exploration into the foundations of the holiest place we've known as a people. Our tour guide turned to us as we walked right past the closest place on the tour to the Holy of Holies, where a lone woman was weeping, silently reciting Psalms. Our guide informed us that a soldier, a brother of a friend had just been kidnapped. She was speaking of Gilad Shalit. We were in a sacred place, exploring what it was to be Jewish, remembering walls we'd never seen, comforting a sister we had never met. Every breath became that much more intense. Every moment of life became that much more precious.
May every people choose life over death.
May every people experience peace and joy.
May we - our brothers and sisters around the world, particularly in Israel - experience less sadness and more joy in the days and months to come.
Rabbi Menachem Creditor