Today Gilad Shalit was returned to his family. It has been hard to find words for what I imagine the feelings that Aviva and Noam Shalit had holding their son again. I could not imagine my life without any of our children. It is just crazy to realize that two of them were born during his captivity.
All day I kept coming back to a story told by Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal in his book Eim Habanim Semeichah. In this amazing book Rabbi Teichtal refutes the anti- Zionism of his Hungarian Orthodox upbringing and beautifully lays out a vision of redemption realized in a Jewish State of Israel. This story is long, but it is prescient and worth reading. Rabbi Teichtal wrote:
In the year 5702 (1942), before Pesach ( Passover), the cursed oppressors issued the terrible decree to abduct young Jewish maidens in Slovakia, age sixteen and older, and deport them to an uninhabited, unknown land. To this day, the fate of thousand of pure Jewish souls who were transported there is unknown. May HaShem speedily take vengeance on our oppressors, on our behalf. The camp of Israel was in a great state of panic.
I know of an incident in which a certain individual attempted to smuggle his young daughters over the border, to save them from this horrible trap. It was the intermediary days of Pesach, and he promised his wife that he would send a telegraphed message from across the border informing her that he and his children had arrived safely. The mother sat at home anticipating and longing for the moment what she would receive the good news. It happened, however, that before they crossed the border, the father and his daughters were seized and transported to a nearby village, where they were placed in prison. There, they remained for the duration of Pesach. They were in great danger of being sent off immediately to an unknown place, for that was the punishment for someone who was caught attempting to escape; he would be deported to an unknown destination in a harsher manner than the other deportees.
In the meantime, his wife, the mother of the girls, was informed of the situation. We can imagine the bitter emotions which overcame her. Her joy at the prospect of deliverance was transformed into sorrow. Her holiday became a time of mourning for her husband and daughters. The entire holiday she cried endlessly. Her entire world became dark. It is impossible to describe the sorrowful state into which she fell from the time she became aware of her husband and daughters’ fate, for she knew what awaited them.
However, the brilliant, righteous, and pious rabbi, a true self-sacrificing servant of HaShem, our master, Rabbi Shmuel David Unger, the av deit din of Nitra, selflessly and vigilantly endangered his own life and labored until he redeemed these three captives with a large sum of money. May he be remembered for the good. On the last day of Pesach they were set free and permitted to return home, unharmed and in peace. This distraught woman was immediately informed, via telephone, that her husband and daughters were set free and that they would return home the next day, isru chag,unharmed and in peace. It is needless to describe what sort of effect these good tidings had upon the soul of this unfortunate woman. From that moment on, she waited expectantly for the father and daughters to return home.
The following day, she was unable to restrain herself and wait for them inside the house. Instead, she sat by the entrance of the courtyard and, with great anticipation, awaited the moment of their return. When they arrived, she burst into tears and overwhelmingly poured out all the emotions of her heart. On account of the profuse outpouring of emotions, she was unable even to utter words of thanks to the Holy One Blessed be God for the great miracle God performed on their behalf. He who did not witness this reunion – the mother reunited with her daughters after such a dreadful captivity, the tears of the mother when she saw that her daughters had returned to their borders, the joy of the joyous mother of children – has never witnessed true feelings of joy. This is what I know about this incident which transpired in our days.
I imagine that such will be the joy of our mother, Eretz Yisrael, when we all return to her bosom after the horrible captivity we now experience. This is how I picture the wondrous joy that a mother will share with her children, that is, Eretz Yisrael with us and we with her. Hence I entitled this work Eim Habanim Semeichah ( A Joyous Mother of Children). (from Eim Habanim Semeichah- Translated by Moshe Lichtman)
Completed by 1944, Rabbi Teichtal’s words are hauntingly relevant today. This story transpired exactly 70 years ago this Pesach. In this time we have realized that dream of Jews from all over the world finding a home in Israel. In Gilad Shalit’s return home we reconnect to the ideals of Zionism. The steep cost of his ransom awakens us from the dream of these last 70 years.
Today I got a wonderful e-mail from my sister Arielle Hendel who wrote of her connection as a parent to Gilad Shalit’s return. She wrote:
The joy we feel is tempered by the high price we paid to release him. All of the relatives of the victims of the released terrorists are reliving their personal nightmares of loss without justice or redemption. The Knesset’s decision was not easy but it underscores the value that Israel puts on a single life. Gilad was everyone’s concern – he became our son, his redemption is ours. Finally, I am reminded of Golda Meir’s famous words, ”Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Today the joy of Sukkot is overshadowed by the joy of a mother at the return of her captive son. I still believe in my heart that we will only experience sustained joy when the Palestinians love their children as much as we love our own.