Is one life worth it?

I usually don’t like when Israel is in the news. That is because US media coverage of Israel is rarely about the medical advances of Israeli doctors, or technological breakthroughs that happen in this tiny country with the world’s most high-tech startups per capita.

Coverage is usually about Occupation. Conflict. Tit-for-tat attacks and “disproportionate acts of aggression” by Israel to her neighbors, most who are hell-bent on the destruction of the only country on the planet with a Jewish majority.

So last week, when news first surfaced about Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas, I immediately thought it was bad news. The person who was telling me the potentially good news was sitting in the passenger seat of my car. She was a teacher. And she had vested interest in the outcome of one of the most unprecedented prisoner exchanges in Israeli history. Because she was Israeli.

My guest was Inbar, one person in an eight-member Israeli delegation visiting Rochester area schools, both Jewish and non-Jewish, as part of the Partnership 2Gether Education Bridge program, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

Israeli teachers and community leaders visited both religious and secular public schools such
as Scribner Elementary School in Penfield, Webster High School; and Twelve
Corners Middle School and French Road Elementary School in Brighton. Questions
from children in younger grades included what types of sports are played and
what kids wear in Israel. High school students posed more ethical questions
about religious diversity and the current prisoner swap that unfolded each day
of the Israeli’s visit.

They stayed with hosts, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

Does it shock you that Israeli Jews, like many Americans, struggle with their own Jewish identity? Is living in Israel enough for them?

The Israelis left Rochester with an enormous appreciation of the degree at which Americans tolerate one another’s different customs, religions and different levels of observance. They hopped around in our sukkahs. They attended services in our synagogues and many of them saw women participating in religious congregational life for the first time. Women here can be rabbis. Women here in America can read from and be called to the Torah for an aliyah. Then, they went shopping.

From what our Israeli guests told me, many have chosen a purely secular life, though in Israel, all Jewish holidays are national ones. Most Israelis are tired of being dictated by the religious right, which have a very strong hold on government. But, after visiting American Jews, who try to mix traditions with modernism, they want to welcome back Jewish traditions into their lives, but on their terms. As secular as they are, the lives of Israelis, including decisions made by the Israel Defense Forces, are governed by Jewish values. One of these values is the commandment of Pidyon Shvuyim, the redemption of captives.

As the week went on, the pending release of Gilad Shalit in exchange for Arabs with known blood on their hands, weighed heavily on our guest’s minds. Was it really true? Was Gilad coming home at last? And would he be released alive?

Gilad was kept in our hearts, prayers, and classrooms all week. We read from a story that Gilad wrote when he was only 11 years old. It had been illustrated and published into a book. It has been read by children the world over as a message of peace.

In the very early hours of Oct. 18, I climbed the stairs to the guest bedroom in my attic to wake Inbar with some very good news. Gilad Shalit, 25, was home and free.

Many have questioned the logic of this lopsided swap. As TV coverage streamed the news later that day at a gym where I was working out, a fitness instructor apologized if her question sounded crass, but she asked if he was worth it.

What do you think? Is one life worth saving?

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

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