Thank God, Gilad Shalit is finally home. He has transformed Israel into a different country: more holy and united, but also more pained. Pained for those who lost their loved ones in many wars and terrorist attacks and whose murderers have now been freed in a deal to return Gilad to his parents.
For more than five years, Israel’s entire population has been waiting for the moment of Gilad’s release. He has become the son of each one of us. He is “in our kishkes (guts).” His empty bed has been found in every Jewish home in Israel. We have embraced his parents, Noam and Aviva. We have cried and prayed with them. We have all become Gilad’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. Religious or secular, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, Chassidic or Modern Orthodox, we have all joined hands and waited with anxious anticipation – too difficult to express – for him to fall into his parents’ arms and ours. We now shed tears of joy and dance in the streets, because for the last five years the Shalit family consisted of close to 6 million members living in one Jewish home, Israel. But we cry, as well, with all those who feel betrayed by this deal.
Even as we discussed and quarreled over what price we were prepared to pay for his release, when the moment arrived we were jubilant. There are many among us who believe that the Israeli government has made an enormous blunder by freeing hundreds of arch terrorists with blood on their hands. Yet they, too, celebrate with the Shalit family and sincerely wish them mazal tov, while maintaining their belief that it was entirely wrong to pay this price.
We all know the extreme dangers involved in this exchange. It is madness. The chances of renewed terrorist attacks and kidnappings are very high. It is irresponsible. We are aware of the risks to our children, our soldiers and our own lives in letting wild beasts go free. These murderers will no doubt continue to do everything in their power to kill as many of us as possible. We court disaster by allowing them to go free.
And still, we sleep more soundly and our collective mood has improved now that this one Jewish soldier has been brought home.
Why this madness of ignoring all risks involved? Why this insane exchange? Because we are Jews, and one Jewish boy was enabled to come home to his parents and his people. Nothing more. It is what we are all about. This is the unmatched, mad victory of Jewishness. It is what makes us special. Though we know it is asking for trouble and we are shooting ourselves in the foot, and perhaps it is even forbidden, still, we cannot help it. We are overwhelmed by our love for one Jewish soldier, and all logic is suspended. Our moral grandeur, our neshomos (souls) compel us to do this. Why? Because all of us are his parents, and parental love knows neither boundaries nor reasoning.
The world does not understand. It labels us crazy. Why free hundreds of bloodthirsty terrorists for the release of one soldier? Any civilized, self-respecting nation would sacrifice this soldier for the sake of national security. Why, then, don’t the Jews? No one can see any well-thought-out justification for this suicidal exchange. Theories abound, but no one will ever comprehend it. No one, that is, besides the Jews. We understand. It is the mystery of Jewishness that makes us do this. It is this madness that has kept us alive for nearly 4,000 years. Every Jewish child is all of Israel and more.
Sure, many of us say we should have entered Gaza, destroyed Hamas and brought Gilad out, whatever the price. We judge the Israeli government as weak for not having done so. And we may well be right. But none of us will argue that we should have given up on Gilad or any soldier for the sake of our security. It’s just not Jewish. Jews simply do not do that. No son will be left behind, not even dead! We are prepared to risk our lives and the lives of our children for him. Why? Because we are Jews, and we speak a different language, one that we cannot explain. It is ineffable.
And still, we empathize with those among us who paid the highest price by having lost their loved ones and are now deeply hurt by this Jewish madness. They were promised that the killers of their family members would be brought to justice, and now they must face a new and cruel reality. They feel cheapened and betrayed. And their feelings are as fully justified as those who felt that the highest price must be paid to free Gilad. The worst pain is that of knowing that two opposing sides are equally right and equally wrong.
We are the most challenged people on earth. To be a Jew is the greatest privilege of all, but it is also highly inconvenient. It is either holy or tragic. Being part of the Jewish people entails grappling with excruciating paradoxes that no one can solve and no other nation knows. We pay a high price to live as Jews. To be normal, we must be exalted. We live despite the peril. Between Sinai and Auschwitz. Our very existence is the refusal to surrender to normalcy. As such, we can serve mankind and teach the world what needs to be done to save the life of one human being.
But now that Gilad is home, we must once again demonstrate that we are indeed the most astonishing and puzzling people in the world. The Israeli government and media will have to make a 180 degree turn and stand behind all those who have been badly hurt by this “prisoner exchange.” Not from a place of pity, but out of pure justice. We now need to prove to all the bereaved families that we are also their family, their brothers and sisters, and we are as pained by this deal as they are. Otherwise, we are all guilty. Injustice has been done in Israel as much as justice. No, the world will not understand and will once more declare us insane. But we Jews know better. The gentiles will have to become as mad as we are before they will understand what Jews are all about. Only then will they become indestructible and eternal, as we are.
We Jews have to ask ourselves one question: Shall we be superfluous, or indispensable? We owe Gilad and all those who have been hurt an answer that is crystal clear. To bear this paradox is to conquer our fate and be proud of it.
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