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Gilad Shalit's Release: A Heavy-Hearted Celebration

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Gilad Shalit has come home. Is this a time for euphoria or upset?

The head tells us that this is a terrible deal. The lopsided exchange may lead to more terrorism, more Israeli deaths. Nadav Shragi, in a report by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, analyzed the aftermath of the exchange in 2004 of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier held captive. According to Shragi, "those freed in the deal murdered 35 Israelis" by 2007. And of course, the lopsided exchange may inspire more hostage takings, more kidnappings, more ransoms to be paid.

During the Second Intifada I traveled to Israel, often for just a day or two, to share words of comfort with those who had lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. Never will I forget those moments.

Oct. 18, 2000: At the start of the Second Intifada, two Israeli soldiers lost their way in Ramallah. They were taken to a police station where they were beaten. Vadim Norzhich, one of the soldiers, was lying on the ground with a knife in his back when Aziz Salha removed the knife and stabbed Vadim in the chest three times. He then proceeded to the window proudly waving his bloody hands for all to see. Salha is amongst the terrorists who are being released. In the little town of Or Akiva, I sat with Vadim's widow, Irina. Both Vadim and Irina were émigrés from the former Soviet Union and were recently married. As I left, Irina's father, Issai, turned to me and said, "Vadim will always be remembered," as he pointed to his daughter, Irina, who was pregnant.

Aug. 9, 2001: Terrorists blew up the Sbarro Pizza store in Jerusalem. During that time, I was leading a group from my synagogue to Israel. One of our participants, Howard Green, is related to Chana Tova Nachenberg. The two of them were sitting together in Sbarro when the attack took place. That night, I stood near Chana Tova as she lay unconscious in the ICU at Hadassah Hospital. Two years ago, I visited Chana Tova in the Reuth Center in Tel Aviv. There she lay, still unconscious. So she remains to this day. Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who transported the bomber to the restaurant, is among those now being released. In 2006, Tamimi gave an interview to an Israeli newspaper, where she proudly proclaimed that she feels no remorse whatsoever for her role in the attack.

March 27, 2002: A suicide bomber blew up the Park Hotel dining room as Jews assembled for a Passover Seder. Although I visited many of the wounded in the hospital following that attack, what was most striking was a visit to the Park Hotel a year later. My attention was drawn to the renovated ceiling. There, embedded, was a fork, which remained from the force of the blast. Here, too, the accomplices who transported the bombers to the hotel are now being released.

So the head says this is a bad deal. But the heart -- the heart feels differently. Today, Gilad Shalit is not just a soldier. He is Israel's unknown soldier, precisely because he is so well known, he is so identifiable. Gilad's picture released soon after his capture, with his boyish look, his thick black glasses, his soldier's uniform, which seemed a bit large for his body, will forever remain in our hearts. He was the picture of innocence, forced to grow up too quickly in the hands of brutal men and women. His image is on billboards around the world. His name on the lips of prime ministers and presidents. Today, Gilad is not only the son of Aviva and Noam, he is everyone's son. He is everyone's brother. The exchange is not only an exchange of over a thousand terrorists for one soldier, it is an exchange of a thousand for Gilad -- the symbol of every soldier.

So which is it? Is the release of Gilad a time of sadness or joy? Is it a time of upset or elation? Is it the time to mourn with the mind or celebrate with the heart?

Ecclesiastes writes: "everything has its season ... a time to weep and a time to laugh ... a time to wail and a time to dance ... a time to rent garments and a time to mend." Ecclesiastes seems to be saying that there are distinct times for each of these emotions.

Yehuda Amichai, the great Israeli poet, understands it differently. He writes: "Ecclesiastes was wrong about that ... A person needs to love and hate at the same moment. To laugh and cry with the same eyes ...To make love in war and war in love."

Jewish law marks this phenomenon when it asks that at the height of our greatest joy, at a wedding itself, that we break a glass to remember the shattered Temples, the shattered human temples, that need fixing.

As Gilad Shalit falls into his mother's and father's arms, as he is embraced by his siblings, Israel, the Jewish people and humankind of moral conscience will be dancing and singing. For me, also, in the midst of the euphoria, will be flashes of different images -- of Vadim, of Chana Tova, of the Park Hotel massacre, faces of countless many who were mercilessly murdered, and their relatives and friends who are wounded for life.

But today, even with all of these images, my heart still wins out. I felt this way in an exchange I recently had with my eldest grandson, Gilad, who lives in Israel and will soon be enlisting in the Israeli Army. When Gilad Shalit's release was announced, my grandson said, "Just remember Sabi (grandfather), I'm not worth a thousand." There was silence on the line. Tears streaming down my cheeks, I found it difficult to speak. Finally, when I could, this hardened activist, who years back argued exchanges should not take place but now feels differently, lovingly responded, "Gilad, you're right, you're not worth a thousand. You're worth at least a million."

Today, the heart wins out. But this is not a moment of euphoria. It is that moment under the chuppah (wedding canopy) when we celebrate joy and happiness only to firmly plant our foot on the glass and breaking it remembering the souls and the families whose lives are forever shattered.

Around the Web

Gilad Shalit - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gilad Shalit reunited with family in Israel; Palestinian prisoners freed ...

LIVE BLOG: The Gilad Shalit prisoner swap as it happens - Haaretz ...

Even After Release, Gilad Shalit Faces Struggle – Forward.com

BBC News - Gilad Shalit: A 1000-to-one asymmetry

Gilad Shalit: I Thought I'd stay in captivity for years - Israel News ...

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