Live from the Lilith Blog

July 24, 2008 by

The Israeli Prisoner Swap and the Hadassah Convention

The Zionist Women’s Organization, Hadassah, had its annual convention last week in Los Angeles. Plenty of noteworthy goings on went on there. But that will have to wait for another post.

Right now I’m more interested in what happened at last year’s convention in New York. Having attended the closing brunch of the convention, I posted my thoughts about Hadassah then, but I didn’t post about the most moving — and tragic — part of the event, when captured Israeli soldier Ehud Goldwasser’s mother, Miki, and his newlywed wife, Kamit, addressed the audience, on what happened to be his birthday, pleading for help to get Ehud and the three other missing soldiers back. Fortunately I still have my half-finished draft of the post, titled “Mother-In-Action: Ehud Goldwasser’s Mother Raises Her Voice.” In the last few weeks her words have become both more and less relevant, more and less tragic.

Miki Goldwasser related how when she first learned that her son was missing, she had to be sedated, kept calm by pills just to be able to function. Such is the shock a mother feels at losing a child. But she also shared that she soon came to her senses and realized that being sedated was not going to solve anything: “No more pills,” she said, “from now on, I’m fighting!”

And that’s what she did, traveling around the world, talking to Jewish audiences and world leaders, begging them to do anything they could to put pressure on Hezbollah to release her son and the other missing Israeli soldiers.

Well, now her fight is over. The remains of Goldwasser and fellow captive soldier Eldad Regev were returned to Israel last week as part of a prisoner swap with Hezbollah that’s been making headlines for weeks.

I have heard family members of missing soldiers speak before and I recall them always saying something along the lines of, ‘We just want to know whether he is alive or dead. Not knowing is worse than knowing he is dead.” But Miki Goldwasser never said that. She seemed convinced that if she fought hard enough, she would see her son alive once again. We now know that he was killed in the initial attack over two years ago. In hindsight, this makes her efforts all the more tragic.

And yet, was the fight worth any less than if she had gotten her son back alive? Of course not.

It makes me sick to think of the unevenness of the “swap” — Israel returning five Lebanese prisoners, one a multi-murderer, alive, and the remains of many others, in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers. Yet in the end, the exchange of bodies is a sick business, pure and simple. Life and death are both transcendent. Neither can be quantified, and there is no such thing as an equal exchange.

And there are still Israeli soldiers missing. Negotiations over the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been held hostage by Hamas and its allies for over two years, appear to be at a standstill.

As the fast of Tisha B’Av approaches, historically a very bad time for the Jewish people, author Lisa Alcalay Klug is spearheading “a campaign to focus our collective energy, thoughts and prayers on bringing about [Gilad Shalit's] freedom.” Klug writes in a Facebook message:

In your own way, whatever way that is, please put your mental and spiritual attention on bringing about his safe return–alive–to his family, his country and his people. This year, Tisha B’Av falls on August 10th. When/if you fast, in addition to the traditions of the day, please also have in mind the safe return of a live and well Gilad Shalit.

The power of collective fast and prayer is believed to have saved the Jewish people from genocide during the time of Queen Esther.
The redemption of the captive is one of our most compelling missions as a people and as brethren on this planet. Years ago, our collective efforts brought Natan Sharansky from bondage into freedom–mishibud l’geulah. Together, we can redeem Gilad Shalit.

Spread the word!

–Rebecca Honig Friedman