Gilad Shalit’s Return: Portrait of a Father-Son Embrace

Gilad Shalit Hugs His Father

There have been a lot of words on the Internet today about the long-awaited return of Gilad Shalit. I don’t know that any of those words speak as loudly as this image of a father embracing his son. Perhaps it is even more appropriate that Gilad’s face is obscured in the shot – he has been captive so long that his physical reality is a mysterious and now a novel fact, whereas the ache of the family awaiting his return is something all of us can immediately connect to. The way Noam Shalit envelopes his son and rests his head on his shoulder with his eyes closed is the universal embrace of all fathers who receive their child back from peril, thankful for the miracle of return that makes this hug possible. Imagine how many nights over the past five years Noam Shalit imagined this embrace? Tried to feel it? Imagined what it would smell like? Born of the greatest and prolonged trauma one can imagine for a parent, the emotion of the image is so shockingly human and raw, that one smiles even as one recognizes the vulnerability and pain it acknowledges. This most compelling of family reunions occupies the foreground of the photo, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is relegated to the background, a smiling spectator on a day when for the moment, politics in Israel can recede to an afterthought.

A photograph like this reminds us that the drama of Gilad Shalit is a family drama. It reminds us that more than just being a country of political parties, conflicts and territory, Israel is a country of families. Families with real lives. The joy of the Shalit family is twinned with the inverse drama of those families who have lost loved ones to terrorism having to endure the sight of some of those responsible for their murder go free in exchange. Out of sight of the cameras, they too will embrace each other, their grief given fresh potency, as the murderers are welcomed as heroes in Gaza and the West Bank.

On such a dramatic day, we join in feeling the joy of the Shalit family, even as we feel the pain of those other families. We are reminded of the high price Israel is forced to pay for its survival, and that that price is borne not in abstraction, but by the families of the Jewish state.

Talking About the Gaza Flotilla – part two, with podcast

This morning’s briefing on the Gaza Flotilla crisis with Noam Katz, Minister of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel was really quite exciting. We had around 60 people attending and a very robust Q&A session following his introductory remarks. Those remarks are available here as an MP3 — the Q&A session was technically “off-the-record” so I can’t post any recording of that. However, it was a very broad cross-section of opinions from those who feel that Israel was completely justified in its actions and needs to do more to get out its story, to those who believe that the blockade of Gaza is both immoral and illegal, to those who feel that Israel’s strategic interests are no longer being well-served by the blockade, to those who want more public acknowledgement of the aid that is regularly transported to Gaza from around the world. Minister Katz handled all the questions respectfully and while his answers may not have satisfied everyone, it was generally agreed that the opportunity for the conversation was much appreciated.

It is our hope to have more discussions like this one with other speakers with differing perspectives.  In the mean time, here are Noam Katz’s opening remarks.


Talking About the Gaza Flotilla

When I first learned of the ill-fated Israeli raid on the Gaza Flotilla boat Mavi Marmara I got a sick feeling in my stomach. Why? Because something had gone horribly wrong and already I was preparing myself for the recriminations that would be hurled against an Israeli state that I love at an elemental part of my being. Because there was a dizzying element of multiple asymmetries to the whole story as it unfolded: protesters versus soldiers, paintball guns versus knives and lead pipes, a dozen soldiers (each like my “brother” from my mishpacha me-ametzet) versus hundreds of violent opponents, nine dead people versus unspecified injuries, occupied Palestinians versus powerful Israelis, a tiny Jewish state versus a host of hostile neighbors that would smile on its annihilation. Because while I consider myself an unambiguous Zionist, I have great misgivings about this whole episode, from the motivations of the Turkish organizers who set it in-motion to those who would defend every aspect of Israel’s handling of the affair and question the loyalty of those who think otherwise. As I followed events on my Blackberry as they developed on Monday afternoon, I just kept saying to my wife, “This really upsets me.” But I couldn’t articulate beyond that.

When I came into work on Tuesday I felt like I needed to provide the beginnings of a process to make sense of this for myself, and so I picked-up the phone and called my colleague at the Embassy of Israel to arrange for a free and open to the public briefing from an Embassy spokesperson this Friday at 8 am. All are welcome. In the short time the event has be open for registration, I think I can conclude that I am not the only one with questions.

As I began spreading word of the event I got a note from a friend who asked, “Are [you] taking the Embassy line on the flotilla situation?  Or are [you] allowing for the Jeffery Goldberg / Amos Oz view to be articulated as well?” My response was that I (or the Washington DCJCC for that matter) am not taking anyone’s line. That’s not what we do. That’s not what this is intended to be. This is the start of a conversation. Or perhaps it is the continuation of a conversation we’ve been having since 1948. Or 1967. Or 70 C.E. In either case, it is not meant to be the totality of the conversation, only a point of departure. And it is my hope that it will not be an event where the audience passively absorbs without question everything that is asserted from the podium. My hope is that we can talk to each other. We’re starting with the Embassy, and while they won’t be there, I am sure Amos Oz and Jeffrey Goldberg will have their people in the room. And if we’re lucky, so will Alan Dershowitz, David Grossman, Marty Peretz, Max Boot, John Podhoretz, Gershom Gorenberg and Bernard-Henri Lévy. They are all welcome, because we all have to contend with a post-flotilla reality.

I don’t care if the Palestinians or their allies don’t “indulge” in this level of communal introspection. Perhaps they already do, we just aren’t privy to those conversations. Perhaps they will some day, or never will. It doesn’t truly matter to me. To abstain from discussion in the name of solidarity strikes me as the least Jewish thing we could do at a time like this. Whatever our separate conclusions, the goal is shared, a Jewish democratic Israel secure in its borders, at peace with its neighbors, and in-touch with its highest values.

You can register for the briefing here.


Last Minute Event: Meet the head of the IDF Field Hospital in Haiti

We’ve just added this free event for tomorrow, Wednesday, March 3; a very special opportunity to hear Dr. Ofer Merin, who was in-charge of Israel’s remarkable field hospital established in Haiti after the devastating earthquake.

For those of us who love Israel it was a refreshing change of pace to see the IDF portrayed so widely and so positively for its magnificent response to the overwhelming need in Haiti. Of course, it didn’t take long for even this effort to be subjected to criticism, charges of cynical manipulation and worse still even heinous blood-libels. People got so wrapped-up in the political posturing regarding the “purity” of the medical mission’s objectives (both attackers and defenders) that the pure fact of the actions performed, the aid rendered and the lives saved has already begun to dim in peoples’ memories.

Tomorrow is the rare opportunity to hear from someone who was there. Dr. Ofer Merin was the Chief of the IDF’s field hospital and was witness to the amazing marshalling of people and materials at a moment when the rest of the world’s relief efforts seemed to be spinning their wheels. Whatever political drama gets constructed around the fringes of this operation, the fact of its achievements cannot be denied.

The event is a chance both to learn more about the operation, and to thank one if its leaders for representing Israel and the Jewish people so well.


Shabbat Surfing: The Rich Set Him Up! (?)

Could Eliot Spitzer be the Jewish Marion Barry? The inevitable conspiracy theories surface at Jewlicious. They might be worth pursuing, you know, if he hadn’t actually admitted to spending eighty large on hookers.

Tom Ricks on ran excerpts of a report on how concentrating on counter-insurgency operations degraded the IDF’s ability to fight a more conventional war such as the one against Hezbollah in 2006. He wonders whether the US Army’s current experience in Iraq could have similar consequences.

Arjewtino has a great post about wearing his father’s suit, giving props to another blogger who described it as, “Superman putting on his cape.”

Our neighbors at 17th Street Hardware make it into the landmark hearing at the Supreme Court about gun rights.

Patrick Sauer at Jewcy handicaps the NCAA field by their Tribe affiliations (as previously mentioned, I’m pulling for Memphis).

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention along with half the other bloggers in DC that the cast and crew of State of Play was shooting up the street at the Temple of the Scottish Rite. There have been plenty of other posts about this elsewhere, but one of our preschool classes took a walk up the street to check out the scene. Unfortunately, Russell Crowe was not available to participate in circle time.

Speaking of movies…After the jump: The Best of Purim on YouTube Continue reading

In Case You Missed It: What Makes An Army Jewish? A Dialogue.

IDF and Jewish Ethics 2Stephen Stern, the 16th Street J’s Director of Dialogues and Public Affairs sends an account of this past week’s riveting dialogue.

Thursday night, February 14, a ruach of intense dialogue pervaded the Center’s Ina and Jack Kay Community Hall, as nearly fifty participants remained riveted for a two hour plus exploration, “What Makes a Jewish Army? Ethics and Tradition: The IDF in an Age of Checkpoints, Village Sweeps and Targeted Killings”. Two passionate IDF veterans recounted their experiences and their starkly different conclusions, listened deeply and challenged each other, responded to fifteen varied and vibrant interrogations from the audience, and spoke to modern dilemmas in light of traditional Jewish questioning framed by our sublime colleague, Jewish educator Avi West of the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning.

This is my brief introductory account and an invitation to continue this dialogue. I seek responses to this blog from our panelists, that night’s audience, and those out there who want more of this.

Yehuda Shaul, a young orthodox Israeli, is founder of Breaking the Silence, a group of veterans who give visual, oral, and written witness on the meaning of their service in the West Bank and Gaza during the second intifada. Yehuda illustrated, speaking in front of a panoramic projection of a large Palestinian neighborhood in Hebron, his group’s call for the Israeli civil society “owner of the IDF” to look deeply at and weigh the costs of military control over large civilian populations. Continue reading

The Politics of Israel and the IDF

Both the Post and the Times have articles today on the release of the Winograd Commission’s report on the 2006 war in Ehud OlmertLebanon which is highly criticial of both the civilian and military Israeli leadership. Terming the war, “a big and serious failure” for Israel, the report backs away from some of the harsher criticism it had leveled directly at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in its interim report. In that earlier edition, the Commission had accussed the PM of “severe failure” for the rush to war — although now it states somewhat appeasingly that Olmert’s government acted, “acted out of a strong and sincere perception of what they thought at the time was Israel’s interest.” The conventional wisdom is that he will not have to resign…for now.

This will all surely be on the table for discussion next Wednesday at 7:30 pm when Hebrew University professor Dr. Meron Medzini comes to the 16th Street J to for a program entitled Israel 2008: The Political Landscape. Dr. Medzini teaches Israel Foreign Policy at Hebrew University and is the author of The Proud Jewess: A Political Biography of Golda Meir.  The event is free and presented in partnership with American Friends of the Hebrew University.

The following week, on February 14 you can also join us for Dialogue – What Makes an Army Jewish: Ethics, Tradition and the IDF. This discussion will examine more closely the practical impact political and policy decisions have on the responsibilities of soldiers tasked with carrying out the orders of the government. The dialogue will feature Yehuda Shaul, a young orthodox Israeli whose experience as a soldier in Hebron led to the 2002 founding of Breaking the Silence, a group of IDF veterans who give public witness to the impact of their service in the West Bank and Gaza; and  Adam Harmon, author of The Lonely Soldier and an American-Israeli who has served with elite IDF units for over 13 years and has helped capture leading organizers of terror and prevented suicide attacks. The program is subtitled, The IDF in an Age of Checkpoints, Village Sweeps and Targeted Killings, so expected a frank discussion.

%d bloggers like this: