This time for us as Jews is known as Z’man Simchateinu, the time of rejoicing. In an ordinary year we celebrate in our Sukkot, aware of the fragility of the structure, and then move into celebrating the completion and rereading of the Torah. This year we have extra reason for celebration with the safe return of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier taken captive 1,940 days ago. Regardless of political viewpoints, Jews around the world felt the loss of one of our own in his capture. For years we have led efforts to raise awareness of this situation. We have kept a seat vacant in our prayer spaces to remind us that the Shalit family has an empty place at their table and synagogue, and to remind us that our Jewish community is always responsible for one another. In following this situation, our students have seen Jewish communities come together across the board from the right and the left, they have learned about the tremendous value the Jewish people place on each and every life, and in some ways, they have witnessed a miracle in Gilad Shalit’s safe and healthy return to Israel and his family.
Our students were excited when the news broke a week ago about the deal to return Gilad Shalit, and this morning as we joined together in prayer and celebration for Sukkot they brought tears to my eyes as they rejoiced in the news of his freedom. Removing the chair reserved for Gilad Shalit from our bimah was especially poignant for our students.
At this time there are no doubt many mixed emotions, and many prayers to be uttered. We may thank God for the release of the prisoner, or for the good news. We may also pray that this deal causes no future harm or terror for the Jewish people. We may pray that Gilad Shalit and his family know no further pain. Whatever our prayer is, we come together in this moment as a Jewish People and celebrate the value of every Jewish life.