Gilad Shalit on Hanukkah (Photo)

Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights and also a time when we acknowledge God’s miracles. This year we witnessed the miraculous return of Gilad Shalit to Israel and then back home to his family.

This truly is a remarkable photo in which we can thank God for the lights of Hanukkah as well as for the safe return of the captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Iran Hiker Josh Fattal vs. Gilad Shalit

At the end of September following the release of the American hikers who were being held by Iran, reports came out that one of the hikers was Jewish. While the whole world knew that Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were taken prisoner in Iran and accused of espionage, what most people didn’t know was that Josh Fattal’s father is Jewish and that he identifies as a Jew.

Fattal’s father, Jacob, emigrated from Iraq to Israel in 1951, and after serving in the Israeli army moved to the United States. Jacob Fattal’s siblings still live in Israel. The media did a great job of keeping Fattal’s Jewish connection a secret during the two years of his imprisonment in Iran. Only after his release from prison and return to American soil has Fattal’s Jewish story been told. The Jewish Exponent revealed that Josh Fattal became a Bar Mitzvah at Philadelphia’s Rodeph Shalom’s suburban campus and that he has traveled to Israel several times where he still has relatives.

I was thinking about the reaction to Josh Fattal’s release from prison and safe return home to the U.S. as I read a report this morning about an Israeli Knesset member’s outrage that Gilad Shalit traveled to a beach on his first Shabbat of freedom rather than to synagogue.

Photo Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

ynetNews.com reports that “Shas Minister Meshulam Nahari slammed the formerly captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit for going to the beach with his father on the first Shabbat after his return instead of going to the synagogue for prayer. Nahari claimed that Shalit and his father should have utilized the first Saturday after he was freed from Hamas captivity to say the [Gomel] benediction of deliverance – a Jewish prayer of thanks traditionally said by those who survived an adversity or were released from prison.”

Apparently this ultra-religious member of Israeli Parliament is taking his orders from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas political party who has charged him with the task of bringing Shalit closer to Judaism. While it would have been great had Josh Fattal gone to a synagogue on the first Shabbat following his release from Iranian captivity, it was his prerogative not to. And so too with Gilad Shalit.

This is the problem with Israel’s political system. Nahari is a member of the Israeli government and is speaking out against a citizen’s decision to go to the beach with his father rather than to synagogue. Yes, I think it would have been great had Gilad given thanks to God with the traditional Gomel blessing in a synagogue close to his home in Mitzpe Hila, but he is a free man in a democratic nation and can be thankful anyway he chooses. No rabbi and certainly no politician here in America slammed Josh Fattal for not going to a synagogue or temple to praise God for his freedom on the first Shabbat after arriving home.

Perhaps the most important message of both Josh Fattal’s freedom from Iran and Gilad Shalit’s freedom from Hamas is that they returned to their respective free and democratic home countries where they each had the freedom of choice to decide how they would spend their first Saturday of freedom. Synagogue or not, they were grateful to be home.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Gilad Shalit’s First Ten Days of Freedom

I’ve been paying close attention to Gilad Shalit’s first days of freedom from captivity. The debate of whether the prisoner swap was the right choice rages on throughout Israel and beyond, but I’ve become more interested in how he adapts to freedom and how he responds to his new status as a celebrity.

Perhaps what is most notable has been how the Israeli media has treated Gilad and the Shalit family since his release last Tuesday. In general, the news media has respected a 10-day moratorium on intrusion in the town where the Shalit family lives. With the exception of a few photos that were released with the family’s permission of Gilad riding a bicycle and swimming at the beach, there have been no reports of paparazzi-like intrusion into his life during the past ten days. I don’t believe this could have ever happened here in the United States. The American media and paparazzi would have staked out his home 24-7 to get the best photograph of Gilad re-adjusting to freedom in the privacy of his home. Kudos to the Israeli media for being so respectful of this 10-day period.

This video of Gilad Shalit riding his bicycle by his home in Mitzpe Hila was released with permission of the Shalit family:

GILAD’S UGLY SHIRT
I instinctively knew that it wouldn’t take long until humor became part of the Gilad Shalit story. The first real example of this is the now famous “Ugly Hamas Shirt” that Gilad wore when he was released. ynet News first reported that “The Shalit Shirt” has quickly become a fashion trend in Gaza. “The first image of Gilad Shalit out of Gaza has captured the attention of many in Israel and around the world. Shalit was led by Hamas men wearing civilian clothing including a plaid shirt. But while most focused on his gaunt frame, it appears many Palestinians were more interested in his outfit, which became an immediate trend in Gaza.” Stores in the Gaza Strip are selling “The Shalit Shirt” in a wide range of colors for 60 Shekels or about $16.50. There are already several Gaza-based Facebook groups about Gilad’s ugly shirt.

BIBI’S FOREST GUMP MOMENT
It’s unusual for a prime minister to crave the spotlight and sneak into photos because, well, they’re already the leader of the nation and always in the spotlight. However, it really seemed like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was doing just that during the reunion of Gilad Shalit and his father. It didn’t take long for the Israeli news media and bloggers worldwide to recognize that Bibi was trying to get his face into the iconic photos during Gilad’s release.

This act of hubris was immediately labeled “Bibi Forest Gump” after the Tom Hanks movie in which Forest Gump was seen in every iconic photo of American history. And then the Bibi Bombs began. People began Photoshopping Bibi’s face into iconic photos like the Begin-Sadat peace handshake, the signing of Israeli independence, Moshe Dayan walking in reunified Jerusalem in 1967, and Saddam Hussein’s hanging. Some even added Bibi to classic movie scenes from such films as Pulp Fiction and Cassablanca.

At least Netanyahu had fun with it when, yesterday, he uploaded his own “Bibi Bomb” to his Facebook page. It’s a photo of him addressing the U.N. with a superimposed photo of his face and a speech bubble from his smiling mouth with the text, “Doogri, you made me laugh.” An explanation of Bibi’s photo on Jewlicious says, “The word ‘Doogri’ means ‘honestly’, or ‘straightforward’… Not only did Netanyahu’s own version of the ‘Bibi Bomb’ play on the images circulating online, but it also expressed self-humor at his use of the word ‘doogri’ in his UN speech [when he addressed PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas saying] ‘Let’s talk ‘doogri’. That means straightforward, I’ll tell you my needs and concerns.”

DESTINY OR COINCIDENCE?
There are several notable coincidences with the Shalit release. The haftorah (selection from the Prophets) that was read this past Shabbat morning (Shabbat Bereshit) from the Book of Isaiah includes such lines as: “I have called you to be righteous. I took you by the hand and kept you. I made you into a covenant for the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners out of the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness out of prison” (Isaiah 42:6-7) and “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life” (Isaiah 43:4).

Samuel Freedman, writing in the NY Times, referenced the story of Sodom (in next week’s Torah portion) in his beautiful op-ed about pidyon shvuyim (redeeming the captives). He wrote, “The timing of this Torah reading is an absolute coincidence, an unplanned synchronicity between the religious calendar and breaking news. Yet the passage also offers an essential explanation, one almost entirely ignored in coverage of the Shalit deal, for Israel’s anguished decision to pay a ransom in the form of more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, including the perpetrators of terrorist attacks on civilians. The story of Abraham saving Lot represents the earliest of a series of examples of the concept of ‘pidyon shvuyim’ — redeeming the captives, invariably at a cost — in Jewish Scripture, rabbinic commentaries and legal codes. That concept, absorbed into the secular culture of the Israeli state and the Zionist movement, helped validate the steep, indeed controversial, price of Sergeant Shalit’s liberation.”


SHALIT FAMILY’S TENT REMOVED
One of the most emotional moments for Israelis living in Jerusalem was seeing the empty space outside the Prime Minister’s residence where the Shalit family’s protest tent stood for several years. The tent had served as a sign of Shalit’s captivity and a place where tourist groups would visit with the family. The tent was taken down and carted away earlier this week as Israeli President Shimon Peres visited with Gilad at the Shalit family home in the northern Israeli town of Mitzpe Hila.

Debate will continue about whether this was good or bad for Israel. Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, has now spoken out against the prisoner swap that brought Shalit home, saying it has weakened Israel and strengthened Hamas. Every time there’s an attempted terror strike or bombing, critics will point to the release of the prisoners. However, even the release of one Hamas terrorist in exchange for Gilad Shalit could lead to a future incident.

It’s hard to put a price on Gilad’s freedom. However, watching him ride his bike outside his home and knowing he has visited the beach with his family and played ping pong make it feel worthwhile. Hopefully, Israel’s security fence will do its job in keeping the released prisoners and other potential terrorists outside of Israel. It might be unrealistic, but I’d like to believe that the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security agency) didn’t release all those prisoners without first injecting some sort of tracking mechanism into their bodies. I jokingly posted on Facebook that Israeli news reported that the Shin Bet provided each of the released Palestinian prisoners with their own complimentary GPS-enabled smart phone so they could always be located.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Gilad Shalit Home

Aside from writing about the impact the announcement of the Gilad Shalit-Palestinian prisoners exchange deal had on Twitter last week for the Jewish Techs blog, I haven’t written much about this developing story. There are two reasons for this. First, I feel as though it’s all been said. Second, it’s a very complex moral dilemma.

I posted a simple status update on Facebook this morning, stating “Extremely happy that Gilad Shalit is home in Israel. A captive has been redeemed.” One comment to my post summed up the moral dilemma in a concise way: “It is wonderful that Gilad has been released…but at what cost? Do you think that the 400 murderers/terrorists that have been released will lead honest productive lives? And the 600 more to come in 2 months?”

The deal is obviously lopsided because it is 1,027 Palestinian prisoners (many of whom are terrorists and convicted murderers) in exchange for one Israeli soldier who has been held captive for over five years without even access to the Red Cross. Having these prisoners freed and back on the streets should be of great concern to Israel’s security. It also sends the message to Hamas and other terrorist groups that Israel will free prisoners in exchange for captives.

However, it also sends a strong message to Israelis that the Israeli government will do whatever it takes to bring its captive soldiers home. If Gilad Shalit were my son, it wouldn’t matter how many hundreds of prisoners it took to bring him back into my arms. And that’s really why this moral dilemma isn’t a dilemma after all. We just have to put our own children in Gilad Shalit’s shoes and then ask the question.

I remember my high school years in United Synagogue Youth (USY) petitioning the U.S. government to assist in the redeeming of the captive soldiers Ron Arad, Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman. And in more recent years we prayed for the release of other captives as well. So, the video footage of Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel today is cause for celebration. It is a beautiful reunion and one that Gilad’s parents truly deserve after their tireless efforts of the past five plus years.

As we celebrate the release of Gilad Shalit and the fulfillment of the commandment of pidyon sh’vuyim (the redemption of captives) in the middle of the Sukkot festival, we must also pray that Israel is able to protect itself from any terrorism caused by the prisoners it has agreed to release in this deal. At this time of great joy, we must also remember Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff-Sgt. Pavel Slutzker, the two young men who were killed in the same cross-border raid from Gaza into Israel that resulted in the taking of Gilad Shalit. May their memories be for blessings.

For more on the question of the price at which Israel should redeem its captives, see my colleague Rabbi Barry Leff’s blog post.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Twittering of Gilad Shalit

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

Ynet News is reporting that the Israeli prime minister’s emissary to the negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas to return the captive Gilad Shalit said “it’s not over yet. The deal reached is pretty complicated, but the most difficult part is behind us.” The former Mossad agent turned Gilad Shalit negotiator, David Meidan, added that he plans to travel to Egypt soon, together with the negotiation team, to plan Gilad Shalit’s return to Israel.

While the deal to free Shalit was orchestrated by high-level Israeli politicians, negotiators like Meidan, and world leaders, there was also an impressive social media campaign spanning the past few years to spread word of Shalit’s captivity through the micro-blogging site Twitter. The hashtag #FreeGilad has long been used on Twitter following any statement or link relating to the cause of freeing Gilad Shalit. As Adam Dickter blogged about yesterday, Gilad Shalit was trending on Twitter moments after news about the deal began to spread.

Dickter wrote at NewsFactorNews: “News of Shalit’s release and the controversial agreement spread quickly around the world, creating a stream of tweets. The hashtag #GiladShalit moved along computer screens almost as quickly today as #SteveJobs did last week, following the death of the Apple co-founder and former CEO. A few days before that, #iPhone5 topped Twitter, when Apple released a new phone that turned out to be the iPhone 4S, not an iPhone 5, as expected.”

In the NewsFactorNews post, Dickter quoted me about the early use of Twitter to promote the Free Gilad Movement:

Rabbi Jason Miller, who writes extensively about the intersection of Jewish themes and technology, said he learned about the deal Tuesday from a New York Times Breaking News alert, and quickly Tweeted it to his 2,357 followers. It was, in a way, coming full circle, as social media have been used extensively to raise awareness of Shalit’s plight. “The hashtag #FreeGilad is one that I have been using for at least three years now,” said Miller. “In fact, it was one of the first hashtags I ever used on Twitter. I’ve also been asked by leaders of the ‘Free Gilad’ movement if I would tweet certain statements at certain times of the year, on the anniversary of his captivity.” “It’s not just news for Israelis or Jewish people, but an international story.”

Dickter also noted that Facebook also offered an opportunity for people around the world to share their thoughts. The Free Gilad Shalit group, which has 107,112 members.

No doubt that the moment Gilad Shalit is back home safe and sound, he’ll be trending in the Twittersphere once again.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller