In the back of every Israeli mother’s mind and deep within her heart, is a prayer for Gilad Shalit and a deep sense of sympathy for his mother. For the mother of an Israeli soldier, there is also the fear of being in her position.
Gilad Shalit turned 21 years old this past week. It’s a huge event in a young man’s life, especially in Israel. They are, these young men of ours, in one of the most exciting and challenging periods of their life. All is ahead of them, all doors open, all options and choices calling.
They entered the army at 18…or 19. They have served for more than half their required national service. Long out of basic training, these young men are trusted, trained, dedicated. But then, on a hot summer day last year, the world changed for Gilad, for his family, his friends and, in many ways, for his nation. Gilad was captured by Palestinian gunmen who crossed into Israeli territory. In the same attack, two soldiers were murdered and four injured (one seriously). Gilad was dragged into Gaza. He was 19 years old. Just a few weeks later, his family marked his 20th birthday in fear, sadness, and desperation.
A year from that birthday has passed and Gilad is now 21 years old. A year gone from his life that his mother and father can never reclaim. Never to have touched their son for his entire 20th year, never to have spoken to him, to know he is safe, healthy, whole, and happy.
For me, I almost hesitate to even write Elie’s name on the same page as Gilad, the fear is too great, and the guilt for feeling that as well. I didn’t need to have a son enter the army to know that there are few greater agonies for a parent than what Noam and Aviva suffer through each day, each hour, each minute. But to have a son in the army, to feel the distance while he is away, and to know that on a sunny day like today, someone’s world came crashing down … means understanding that you have to come to grips with this worry.
Beyond the issue of negotiating or not, releasing prisoners or not, is the simple sad reality that Gilad isn’t home. I listened to Gilad’s father on the radio a few days ago at a large rally to “celebrate” his birthday. Celebrate is the wrong word, because there can be no celebration. Rather, people gathered to mark his birthday. A reporter asked Noam what message he had for Gilad’s government, for the Hamas government, and finally for Gilad himself.
Anger was in my mind about how little the Israeli government has done, and it could be heard in Noam’s voice as well. There was a slight hesitation when it came to the issue of a message for Hamas. On the one hand, Noam didn’t want to make the situation worse for his son, and yet there too there is anger.
And finally, the question – what would you say to your son? For some reason I will likely never understand, the news cut off at that point. I don’t know what Noam said but my eyes filled with tears at the thought of a father having to communicate with his son only through the media.
This blog is about my son, Elie, who entered the Israeli army about 5 months ago. I thought that this blog would be important to friends and family, so they could follow Elie’s progress and feel more connected (and save me having to say the same things so many times). I also thought it would be sort of cheap therapy…I can express my concerns and fears without driving Elie crazy. And, from the many kind notes and comments I have received here on the blog and privately, I believe this blog is important because it presents the reality of one Israeli soldier, who is typical of so many others and I, as Elie’s mother, am but one of tens of thousands of mothers who are going through (or have gone through) my experiences now.
Aviva Shalit is one of those mothers and Gilad is one of our sons. A few months ago, Hamas released a short tape of Gilad. His most important words were the first few words he said,
“I am Gilad, Son of Noam.”
With these simple words, Gilad Shalit identified himself. Though he talked about his time in captivity, his wish to be home and other words most likely forced upon him by those who have kept him from his family for just over a year now, Gilad’s most important words were the ones he spoke in the first few seconds. They were, I believe, the only ones that were truly his.
These are not merely the words of a soldier held prisoner, a young man kept from his family in harsh conditions. These are the simple words of a Jew. This is how we identify ourselves, how we are called to bless the Torah on the Sabbath, how we are called on the day of our wedding, how we name our children, and even how we are buried. This is the name of a Jew, the child of my fathers and mothers for generations before me. All that I am, signaled Gilad, is the son of Noam, the son of my people.
And now, as Gilad passes his 21st birthday, still in captivity, we all think of him, pray for him and want him home. Happy birthday, Gilad. May you live to 120 only in health and happiness and may you soon be returned home to your family and to all of us.