“Deliver them that are drawn unto death; and those that are ready to be slain wilt thou forbear to rescue?” (Proverbs 24:11)
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) brought former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit to Canada for a four-city speaking tour earlier this month. The tour, which was announced in June, stirred up some controversy among different local Jewish organizations.
B’nai Brith Canada expressed its concern via its newspaper, The Jewish Tribune. Both in its journalistic reporting and its letters to the editor section, it tried to portray a near-universal belief that Shalit’s capture was due to his own mistakes and as such, treating him as a hero demonstrated weakness rather than strength on Israel’s part.
“What is the message that he will be bringing to Canadians?” said Frank Dimant, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.
The paper’s Israel correspondent, Atara Beck, reiterated the IDF’s official investigation findings, which indicated Shalit was not attentive at the briefing before the patrol, did not fire on the terrorists and was not aware of fellow soldiers in the area. Two soldiers, Hanan Barak and Pavel Slutzker, were killed in the attack which resulted in Shalit’s capture. Shalit remained in captivity for over five years before being traded for more than 1,000 imprisoned terrorists in a controversial deal.
Letter-writer Harry Smith of Montreal had this to say about the upcoming tour: “Perhaps it is the Palestinians residing in Canada who should be given front row seats. They surely would bask in the glory of our shame. This young man is, by his own admission, a stumblebum. He could not be bothered to even bring his weapon out of his vehicle. In fact, he never bothered listening to instructions. He anticipated stumbling his way through army service.… What were his superiors thinking? Why didn’t they just put him on kitchen duty? A few more like this hero and Israel will cease to exist.”
“To me the heroes of Israel are people like Natan Sharansky [an Israeli politician, once jailed by the Soviet Union for spying]. They’re heroes like Yonatan Netanyahu [the late brother of Benjamin, Israel’s Prime Minister, killed during a raid to free hostages in Uganda]. There are heroes who are standing on the front line every day. Mr. Shalit, sadly, sadly, was taken captive and was manipulated effectively by the enemy as a bargaining tool,” Mr. Dimant said. He suggested his story will inspire more kidnapping efforts.
However, not everyone shares this negative view of Shalit. JNF CEO Josh Cooper said, “The response to it has been overwhelmingly positive.” Back in June, he anticipated sold-out crowds in all four cities, saying that communities that had been left off the tour had contacted JNF to request they be added.
“I think bringing Gilad Shalit to Canada is a tremendous opportunity to engage and celebrate life. We never leave anybody behind, and we didn’t,” Cooper stated. “I don’t think there was a Jewish person on the planet who didn’t pray for his safe return, and now we have it.”
3,000 people showed up to hear him speak in Toronto. “I’m so thankful that you counted the days of my captivity and never forgot about me,” Shalit told them, in halting English. “I was not even a religious Jew but I appreciated your prayers. I am inspired by your commitment.”
After he spoke, Shalit was presented with a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey jersey, printed with the number 18 (symbolizing life in Jewish tradition), a nod to his love of sports.
In Montreal, high school student Shira Perton felt privileged to meet Shalit and present him with an award. “When you think of superheroes, you think of Superman, Batman, Wonderwoman; but what many people fail to realize is that there are superheroes all around us! Firefighters, policemen, teachers, friends, YOU! Gilad Shalit is a true superhero. Being able to speak and present him with an award was truly a phenomenal experience. I was looking into the face of a true superhero. He didn’t need a special costume to show it or a special name; he is Gilad Shalit, a hero and a symbol of hope for all Israeli soldiers, Jews and people worldwide. For five years, my family and I lit candles, set a place at our pesach seder and said Tehilim [Psalms] for him. Gilad was like one of our family members and we hoped for his return. Once it happened, we rejoiced. Being able to see him that night made me realize that our prayers did not go unanswered and that there is a G-d who listens and helps. This was a truly eye-opening experience that will forever stay in my memory.”