Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Saying there's never a dull moment in Israel is an understatement in the extreme.  Events unfold here at incredible speed.  You can be very high and very low and then high again within the same day.  You can be happy and sad at the same time. 

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, wrote a book about Israel called If A Place Can Make You Cry. Israel can make you cry, laugh, cheer, applaud, and deride all at the same time. The last week, and particularly today, is a case in point.

The young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was held for five years with none of the rights granted under international law, no Red Cross or Red Crescent visits, no contact with family, reportedly malnourished, and reportedly deprived of adequate sun exposure.  And all of this with hardly an objection by the world's mainstream human rights groups.  Certainly nothing like the campaign one would normally expect for a prisoner held under such conditions.  

Shalit was exchanged for over 1,000 terrorists, many of whom committed some of the most horrendous murders and maiming of civilian children, women, and men.  Shalit was on Israeli territory when kidnapped.  He was not engaging in any kind of military action.  Palestinian terrorists tunneled from Gaza, which was and is totally under their control, into Israel to kidnap Shalit and to kill two other soldiers.

Jewish tradition puts a huge value on saving a life, and Israel's driving ethos is to bring every soldier home, dead or alive, no matter what. It is a tradition and ethos to be proud of, and it gives great comfort to soldiers and to their parents who, for 63 years now, have had to send their children off to defend the nation. 

A lot of people, including me, while overjoyed by the return of Gilad Shalit to his parents, who committed themselves for five years to a campaign to keep their son front and center in the hearts and minds of Israelis, are wondering about the wisdom of the deal. Many of these terrorists will go back and kill again, as those previously released have done.

Moreover, many fear this will encourage Hamas and Hezbelloh to kidnap again.  Indeed, some of the Gazans celebrating the return of their compatriots who murdered and maimed innocent civilians were carrying signs expressing their desire to soon have another Shalit.

So, there are a lot of mixed emotions.  Everyone is ecstatic for the Shalit family. They and their supporters kept a tent and tables right near the Prime Minister's home for years. We walked by it almost everyday. Today saw an outpouring of joy that a son of Israel is home. In a way every soldier is everyone's son or daughter here.

Shalit looked gaunt, pale, and hallowed out when released.  He wore no glasses even though his eyesight requires them. He  was held in a basement with no contact with persons from the outside world for five years. 

In contrast, the released Palestinians looked well-fed, wore glasses, and appeared well cared for.  Until recently they were allowed to work on college degrees while in prison. Amazingly, there was virtually no mention on CNN International, BBC, or the French English language news of the deplorable conditions under which Shalit was held or the contrast with the conditions of the Palestinian prisoners.

There was also little or no mention of the hideous crimes the Palestinian prisoners committed.  Virtually nothing about blowing up buses with children, murdering teenagers out for a pizza, blowing up a hotel where innocent people were enjoying a Passover Seder. One would have thought that these poor folks had been held for years simply because they were doing exactly what Shalit was doing when kidnapped: nothing.

Several of the commentators and reporters contrasted the five years that Shalit was imprisoned with the 10, 15, and 25 years some of the Palestinians were imprisoned, but somehow failed to omit the fact that they were imprisoned for horrible crimes.  Some of the commentators and reporters unashamedly turned the return of the terrorists into a human interest story about their family reunions. 

Stupidist question yet:  A CNN anchor asked a reporter in Gaza if the Gazans thought the exchange was a good deal. Even the reporter could hardly hide his astonishment at the question. 1,027 terrorists for one skinny soldier who was 19 at the time he was kidnapped while doing nothing.  Hmmm, got to think about that one.

CNN anchor:  Shalit "captured during a raid." Absolutely no mention that the raid was by the Palestinians invading Israeli territory, not visa-versa.  This was either a conscious decision to mislead the listener, or it was an unbelievable display of incompetent reporting.  Given the fact that CNN International is inundated with commercials by Arab countries and that many of its programs are "in cooperation with" Arab countries, it is not hard to believe at all that this was an intentional omission.

BBC:  Constantly ran on the bottom of the screen that 700,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1967.  No mention whatsoever that most were released in short order.  No mention about how many Israeli civilians were killed and maimed in terrorist acts by Palestinians.  No mention of how many days Shalit was kept without visits or communications.

In short, it was a happy day, a sad day, a day of joy, a day of anger, a day of elation, a day of depression. All at once.

And that's only part of the story. Rosh Hoshana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, a somber Day of Atonement, are behind us, and we are now in the middle of Sukkot, a holiday during which we eat (and many sleep) in temporary dwellings to remember the fragility and temporariness of our dwellings during the 40 years we wandered in the desert after the exodus from Egypt. 

Sukkot is a time for visiting, sharing meals together, decorating the Sukkot, and looking forward to Simcha Torah, the joyous holiday which follows Sukkot and which marks the conclusion of the reading of the Torah and the beginning again.  Hope and joy are in the Jerusalem air, and many fun things are happening in the city and throughout Israel.

The weather is great. Everyday there is a choice of festivals, music, food, parades, and the like.  Whenever you take a walk or go out on the balcony during mealtime you hear people talking, singing, and praying in their succahs. Yesterday morning we walked over to the President's residence for his annual open house, where he greets people in his succah and where various dance and musical groups perform.

Two nights ago our family walked over to the Kurdish festival in Gan Sacher, a park near our apartment. Food, barbecues, music, dancing, costumes, and thousands of Kurdish Jews enjoying their culture. Kurdish Jews?  Yes, just a fraction of the approximately 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab nations settled in Israel in the late 1940's and 1950's.

After eating some samples of Kurdish Jewish food we walked over to Safra Square, the municipal center, and heard a concert by a religious musician who plays sax and mixes contemporary music with traditional. He was joined by a popular singer that all the young girls seem to love. The audience was a mixture of religious and secular, which is not always common.

After being glued to the tube watching the Shalit saga from the early morning to about 2:00 this afternoon, we set out again for another large festival at Gan Sacher.  Then we watched as about 7,000 Christians from scores of nations, here for the Feast of Tabernacles, marched through the streets of Jerusalem to show their support for Israel.  They would often break out into accented renditions of "Shalom Alechem."

The parade route was lined with Israelis cheering them on and expressing their appreciation.  Many of the march participants were dressed in their traditional garb and handed out flags of their countries to those lining the way.  Others carried signs welcoming Gilad Shalit home. For a country and people that often feel isolated in the world, it was a great morale booster, and its timing could not have been better.  "Uplifting" does not do it justice.

People here are very concerned about all of the problems with our neighboring countries. They are more often than not aggravated by, disillusioned with, and angry at the country's leaders. But, though it may sound incongruent, Israelis are happy.  A recent measurement of happiness (done, I suppose, by happiness experts), put Israelis at No. 7 among the nations of the world. 

Wherever you go, people seem to be enjoying themselves and wishing each other hag sameach (good holiday).  Some friends over for dinner in our succah the other night commented how wages are lower here, prices are higher, but the economy is doing great and everybody is out doing things. Go figure.


  1. Hag sameach Alan. What a wonderful post!

  2. Hi Alan,
    Thank you for the posts which I enjoy reading whenever I can. This last one is especially enlightening. OK if I share it with the Capitol Knesset group? You are probably aware of it -- it's mission is to form working relationships between elected officials, lobbyist, and legislative consultants to effectively aid the Jewish community through education, and contribution.
    Email: Capitolknesset@gmail.com I will wait to hear back from you. Thank you! and hag sameach to you and your family.

  3. Liked your post Alan! I, too, was glued to the news. Awake all night with Ynet, Channel 1 & Galey zahal...
    Hag Sameach.

  4. Alan, your posts are so spot on , well written and focused. We need you in an official position to lobby for Israel! chag sameach

  5. Alan, I am glad you are in both places inspiring activists to rally for Israel.

    Gary A.