Monday, September 25, 2006

Bring Them Home

Disclaimer: I hope this article becomes obsolete before publication. I sincerely hope the captives are free when this article runs two weeks from now.

Does your conscience bother you? Well, it should. I have my own blunders to reflect on during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But some failures are communal, and this year, our entire community’s conscience should be troubled. Our community has forgotten her captive sons.

Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are still held prisoner by Hamas and Hezbollah. The Red Cross cannot visit them, and there has been no independent verification of their condition. No one knows if they are alive or dead.

Because of these three young men, Israel has gone to war. This war has left Israel with a huge casualty total, and still, Gilad, Ehud and Eldad are not home.

Of course there was no guarantee that this war would bring the captives freedom. But where have we been since the end of the war? These captives are not exactly the cause celebre of the Jewish world. There have been rallies in Tel Aviv and New York. Is that all we can expect from a people that believes that each Jew is responsible for the other?

Freeing captives is a fundamental Jewish value. The Exodus narrative instills in Jews a profound love of freedom. Exile made the ransoming of slaves an all too common event, and a communal priority. Most importantly, the commandment to free captives is rooted in kinship and community.

Kinship is the starting point of Jewish identity. Abraham risks his life to save his nephew Lot from captivity. Actually, he can’t stand Lot; but family is family, and saving Lot is the responsibility of kinship. (Years later, Abraham’s great grandchildren will commit the cardinal sin of kinship, and sell their brother into slavery. For that sin, the Jewish people will be exiled to Egypt). Jews throughout the ages have emulated Abraham, and gone to heroic lengths to free their captive brethren.

In the Middle Ages, Jews emptied their savings to ransom captives. In 1286, the Jewish community collected 23,000 Marks (the contemporary equivalent of 15,000,000 dollars) to ransom Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg. (Rabbi Meir refused to allow them to pay the ransom). Israel’s history is filled with dramatic rescue efforts like Entebbe and Operation Solomon, as well as lopsided prisoner exchanges like the Jibril Deal. Jews don’t ignore their captive brothers.

Today, we must raise our voices to help Gilad, Ehud and Eldad. We must mention their names at every Jewish event, pray for them every Shabbat, and write letters to our MP’s. We need to support their families, and we must march on the Iranian embassy in Ottawa.

It’s time for the Jewish world to take responsibility for the captives. We need to let the world know their continued captivity is an outrage. And we need to bring Gilad, Ehud and Eldad home.

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