from SF JCHS Head Rabbi Howard Rubin: "Gilad: The Mystery of Relief and Fear"
October 18, 2011
Gilad: The Mystery of Relief and Fear
Rabbi Howard Ruben
Last night as we sat in our Sukkah to welcome the sixth day of the festival, we followed the mystical tradition of welcoming 'virtual guests' from Jewish history into the Sukkah. Last night, the biblical Joseph led the guest list. Joseph is known not only for his coat of many colors, but also for being held captive and, ultimately, released and reunited with his family.
And last night in the Sukkah we used our smart-phones to stay virtually connected to events in Israel around the pending release of Gilad Shalit from five years of isolated captivity at the hands of Hamas. We prayed that Gilad, like the biblical Joseph, be safely released and, in time, reunited with his family.
And now that Gilad is free, I celebrate in my heart with his family.
The deal for Gilad's release has stirred up many emotions for Israelis and those who care for Israel around the world. JCHS students discussed the terms of the exchange for Gilad's release at Hakhel on Monday and a number continued the conversation through lunch afterwards. Several classes have also discussed it from a variety of perspectives - political, societal, and religious.
I admit to being conflicted - agreeing in my heart with those who support this deal that released Gilad from captivity and agreeing in my heart with those who opposed this deal. (My colleague Avi Weiss writes today about celebrating with a heavy heart - with a heart that celebrates with Gilad and a head that recognizes the deal is bad for Israel. Link to Weiss)
As I reflect on the dilemmas posed by - and addressed or exacerbated, depending on one's perspective - this deal, I was moved last night and this morning by two pairs of reflections that follow below. Both pairs include a powerful and poignant statement on different sides of the issue.
One pair comes from two columnists, Bradley Burston (of Ha'aretz) and Jeff Jacoby (of The Boston Globe). The other pair comes from two mothers of victims of terror, Sherri Mandell (mother of Koby Mandell, who was stoned to death at the age of 13 while hiking near his home) and Esther Wachsman (mother of Nachshon Wachsman, another Israeli soldier who was captured and died in a rescue operation).
The timing of Gilad's release also coincides with the reading of parashat Bereisheet that includes the conflict between Cain and Abel. The first life and death struggle in the Torah occurs when Cain kills his brother Abel.
God accuses Cain of murder by declaring that "the voice of your brother's blood is screaming to Me from the ground." Bereisheet 4:10. The Sages puzzle over the term for blood being in the plural. Rashi, for example, interprets the plural to mean, in effect, that in addition to Abel crying out from the ground, God also hears the voices of all the children he would have had and all of their descendants but for the murder at Cain's hand.
These cries are the foundation for how deeply Judaism values life.
So it is with Gilad: many voices have been crying out in pain over Gilad's silent captivity. Many now are crying out in pain over the prisoners with blood on their hands who have been released by Israel in exchange for Gilad. And many from both of those camps are weeping together now in fear over those who may be killed in the future by some of the prisoners released in exchange for Gilad. The weeping is for each of them and for their descendants.
While it is true that Judaism values life, it is not clear how to enact that value when there are competing claims on it. What is clear is that Judaism encourages humility toward valuing one life over another life. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 74b) teaches that a person is not permitted to say one person's blood is redder than another's. Yet that was precisely the dilemma that Israel faced with Gilad.
My colleague Jan Uhrbach, when writing about this admonition toward humility, quotes Reb Nachman of Bratslav who taught about the inevitable mysteries we confront through life. In Reb Nachman's words, "Just as there are unanswerable questions directed to (or against) God, so, too, it is inevitable that there will be questions even the wisest of us cannot answer." The power of that mystery reveals both how precious life is and how confounding.
That mystery is embedded in each of us. Each of us is filled with contradictions and paradoxes. We are careful in some settings and careless in others. We are generous and stingy on the same day. We are often wise and foolish in the same week - or in the same moment. If that is true for each of us, how much more so it must be true about a community or a country.
This is one of those mystery moments.
There was no "good" deal that could have brought about Gilad's release. There was only the opportunity to choose from a number of "bad" deals. A contradiction wrapped inside a paradox.
We sigh with relief and joy over the deal that brought Gilad's release even as we sigh with fear that his release may/will lead to more deaths.
Even as we celebrate with Gilad's family, we pray for all those whose hearts have been shattered by loss - for whom there is no release from the captivity of grief. We pray for the safety and security of all those whose lives remain (and may be even more) vulnerable now because of the deal for Gilad's release.
Most of all, we pray for both the wisdom and strength to endure a world filled with mystery.
Rabbi Howard Ruben
Bravo for these people, these Israelis
Israel has freed 13,509 prisoners in order to win the release of a total of 16 soldiers. An average of well over 800 for each one. But this is the price.
Keeping a promise can entail a terrible choice. Which is why Israelis' outpouring of support for a prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit deserves profound admiration, even wonder.
In driving their leaders to accept the deal, in supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for having assented to it, Israelis by the millions are gambling their very lives, and those of their loved ones. And all just to keep a promise.
On the face of it, the exchange is preposterous, in some ways, borderline suicidal. On the face of it, agreeing with Hamas to the release of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, many of them to this day proud of having committed heinous murders of innocent people in premeditated acts of terrorism, makes little sense.
Israelis know that the exchange will bolster the recently flagging popularity of Hamas, in particular its more militant figures. It could seriously undermine Palestinian moderates, foster a return of large-scale terrorism, and deal a telling blow to the Palestinian Authority, in the process eroding the security of Israelis on both sides of the Green Line.
The deal to bring Gilad Shalit back to his family is painful to Israelis bereaved by terror. It is, by any measure, chillingly dangerous.
Why are we against the exchange that allows murderers to go free? Because we know the suffering that they leave in their wake.
Why is it that terror victims are seemingly the only ones against the prisoner exchange? While other Israelis are rejoicing, we are in despair.
Arnold and Frimet Roth circulated a petition against the release of Ahlam Tamimi, an accomplice in their daughter Malki's murder at the Sbarro pizza shop.
Tamimi says she is happy that many children were killed in the attack. Meir Schijveschuurder, whose family was massacred in the same attack, filed a petition with the high court and says he is going to leave Israel because of his feelings of betrayal. The parents of Yasmin Karisi feel that the state is dancing in their blood because Khalil Muhammad Abu Ulbah, who murdered their daughter and seven others by running them down with a bus at the Azor junction in 2001, is also on the list to be released. Twenty-six others were wounded in that attack.
Why are so many of us against the exchange that allows murderers and their accomplices to go free? Because we know the suffering that these murderers leave in their wake.
Yes, I want Gilad Schalit released. But not at any price. Not at the price we have experienced.
. . . When people tell me that my son Koby died for nothing, I always used to say: No, it is our job to make his death mean something. But now I am not sure. It seems that the government is conspiring to ensure that our loved ones' deaths were for nothing.
Cheapening our loved ones' deaths only enhances the pain. If Israel is willing to free our loved ones' murderers, then the rest of the world can look on and assume that the terrorists are really freedom fighters or militants. If Palestinians were murdering Jews in cold blood without justification, surely the Israeli government wouldn't release them. No sane government would. (More)
Too steep a price for Shalit's release
Time and again Israel has agreed to free hundreds of violent terrorists in order to bring home one or two or three captured Israeli soldiers. And time and again it has done so knowing that many of those set free will go right back to trying to kill Jews.
Many Israelis, and many friends of Israel in the West, think there is something to be admired in the lopsided deal that will free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners -- including hundreds of terrorists serving life sentences for murder -- in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted by Hamas in 2006 and held virtually incommunicado ever since.
According to an opinion poll published Monday, 79 percent of the Israeli public approves of the swap, with only 14 percent opposed. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the agreement last week, he described it as evidence that "the nation of Israel is a unique people; we are all mutually responsible for each other." In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal echoed a popular opinion when it explained Israel's willingness to pay such a steep price for Shalit's freedom as "a testament to its national and religious values, which stress the obligation to redeem captives."
Israel is famous for its ironclad commitment never to abandon its captured or fallen soldiers. In a country where nearly every family has loved ones in uniform, the anguish of the Shalits -- whose son was just 19 when Hamas gunmen crossed the border from Gaza and grabbed him -- was a nightmare with which all Israelis could empathize. Across Israel's often volatile political spectrum, the longing for Shalit's return was universal and heartfelt.
Somewhere in my head, Gilad Schalit became my son, Nachshon, and my feelings toward him were totally maternal.
I have been praying for Gilad Schalit's safe return for more than five years.
Since their arrival at the tent outside the prime minister's house, I have visited Noam and Aviva Schalit many, many times. I spoke out to the media from that tent many times as well. Somewhere in my head, Gilad Schalit became my son, Nachshon, and my feelings toward him were totally maternal. Though fear and terror for his fate existed, hope and optimism were above all.
At different turning points over the years, the media has remembered my son and has turned to me for statements, comparisons and opinions. I am not a politician, a diplomat or an expert on terrorism, nor am I well-versed on security or military issues. I am simply a mother, a mother who went through what no mother should have to, a mother who buried her son.
My world crashed to pieces on the night of October 14, 1994, the 10th day of the Hebrew month Cheshvan. Of course I coped; I did not have the "luxury" of breaking down. I had six other sons to raise, the youngest of whom were then eight-year-old twins.I could not abandon them, but I couldn't abandon the son I had lost, either. It was the very bottom, the very worst time in my life.
When the news broke last week that a deal had been struck for Gilad Schalit's release, my husband and I were at a wedding. At that point, all we wanted to do was to get to the tent and to embrace Noam and Aviva and to rejoice with them. I had no mixed feelings then, only relief and joy that Gilad would be coming home. A mother was to get her precious son back from hell. We cried and laughed and sang and danced, fraught with anxiety that nothing should go wrong, God forbid. (More)
In addition to the pair of reflections above, for more information about the Shalit deal, please check out the materials prepared by our colleagues at the San Francisco Bureau of Jewish Education: BJE Materials on Shalit
JCHS is grateful for generous operational, programmatic, and financial aid support from the Jewish Community Federation (JCF) of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; The Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay; The Jim Joseph Foundation; Keren Keshet - The Rainbow Foundation; and The AVI CHAI Foundation.
I had a beautiful day today. I stood with my sister, a passionate rabbi serving the U.S. Navy as a chaplain, at the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. We remembered our grandfather of blessed memory, who fought for America and shared hard-earned wisdom with his children and grandchildren.
I looked to my right and saw the Washington Monument. Looked to my left at the Lincoln Memorial. I read quotes engraved on massive stones. And I felt, to my core, one sad feeling: too much war.
Too. Much. War.
The quotes and certain retellings of history would have me believe that we fought for pure purposes: we fought for religious freedom, we fought to end slavery, we fought for freedom for all humanity, we fought to end tyranny. But it's also true that we fought (and fight) for economic interests. It&…