Finally free, Gilad Shalit returns to Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit at the Tel Nof Air Force base in Israel shortly after his release from captivity, Oct. 18, 2011. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

A week after Gilad Shalit returned to Israel after being held in captivity for more than five years in Gaza, things were getting back to normal at the Shalit family home—sort of.

The Israel Police said they would remove a barrier placed in front of the family’s house in Mitzpe Hila. The flowers, placards, and other paraphernalia that littered the streets of the northern Israeli town following the celebration marking Shalit’s return have been cleaned up. Even the Shalit protest tent opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem was taken down and carted away.

With Israelis still eager for media coverage of the newly released soldier, it’s unlikely that Shalit, 25, will be able to have a normal life anytime soon.

On Tuesday, Oct. 18, Shalit was finally reunited with his family shortly after crossing into Israel from Egypt after his release earlier in the day by his captors in Gaza, ending five years and four months in captivity. His release came as Israel began transferring 477 Palestinian prisoners to the Red Cross as part of a swap deal between Israel and Hamas that will see the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago shared in the joy felt by many Israelis and Jews around the world about Shalit’s release, after the soldier had spent a quarter of his life in captivity.

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America, released the following statement regarding Shalit's safe return to Israel: “The North American Jewish community shares in the joy of Gilad Shalit's release. For years, we have hoped and prayed for his freedom and return to his family and to the People of Israel. From my own personal meetings with the Shalit family in the tent where they anxiously awaited this day, I am elated that they will be reunited with their son and mourn for the other Israeli families that have paid a painful price in this conflict.”

The Chicago Jewish community, in particular, worked to help galvanize and rally the community in solidarity with Shalit. Social media campaigns encouraged community members to change their Facebook profile picture to a photo of the captive solider, and share information about him with their friends.

The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF), JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and other local groups organized two candlelight vigils held on the eve of the fourth and fifth anniversaries of Shalit's abduction from Israel. More than 500 people—many of which learned of the vigils through social media—gathered at each vigil to show their support for Shalit and pray for his safe return.

Recently, JUF/JF created a Shalit microsite focused on “What Gilad Missed,” noting all the major world events that happened during his over five years in captivity and providing a home base for community members who wanted to take action, learn more, share information with their friends, or say a prayer for Shalit.

Also throughout Shalit's captivity, the Federation’s Government Affairs Committee and JCRC worked with civic, human rights and religious groups, as well as the Illinois Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Administration for his release.

During that time, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed resolutions asking for his freedom. During this session of Congress, Federation's Government Affairs Office in Washington D.C. worked with U.S. House members on H.Res.317, which demanded that Hamas immediately and unconditionally release Shalit. This resolution had 26 cosponsors including Representatives Robert Dold, Mike Quigley, and Jan Schakowsky. The Jewish Federation also engaged the community members urging they contact their member of Congress and the White House and many hundreds did.

Steven Dishler, JCRC’s director of international affairs, led the effort on behalf of JUF. “Being an IDF veteran, the plight of soldiers held in captivity is not only a professional cause, it is personal,” Dishler said. “I spoke with Gilad’s father, Noam, several years ago and promised that I would not relent in speaking out for his son’s release. The price Israel paid was high, but the ultimate Jewish value of redeeming our captives is sacrosanct.”

Marcy Oster from JTA, Stefanie Pervos Bregman, Rebecca Frazin, Karina Grudnikov, contributed to this article. 



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