It’s hard to believe it has only been a year. One year ago today I was standing in the bedroom screaming for Natalie to come and check out the television. The news program was announcing that the King was dead. The King of Pop, that is. For weeks Michael Jackson was all we heard about. It was as if every newscast had become an episode of Behind the Music. The world seemed to mourn for their king with nearly as much—if not more—reverence than for a relative. Street dancers mounted guerilla renditions of the Thriller dance or choreographed new moves to Beat It in subway stations. Suddenly people wanted to hear from the other four Jacksons again.
Today he is all over the news again. Tribute concerts are happening all over the world this weekend. Rebroadcasts of interviews with his family and people who knew him are airing. I learned yesterday that Jackson's estate was $500 million in debt when he died, but since his passing it has made over a billion dollars. Plus we can expect to see 10 posthumous albums between now and 2017. All this in just one year.
Admittedly, I was not a huge fan. I liked his music—Thriller was the first album I ever bought—but I did not mourn his passing. Nevertheless, the news of his first Yahrtzeit, so to speak, saddens me to no end. The reason I am sad, though, has absolutely nothing to do with Michael Jackson.
I am sad because today is another anniversary. An anniversary that we are all but ignoring. Four years ago today, 19-year-old Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants, and he has been in Gaza ever since. As far as we know, he is still alive. The last proof of life was in September 2009, when he held a newspaper for a video camera as he read a statement declaring him “in good health and well-treated.” But his gaunt stature does not look as if he is in good health. And as far as being well-treated, he is denied the ability to communicate with his family, and the International Red Cross has been denied access to him. In fact, due to lack of access, the IDF is not 100% sure he is still in Gaza.
I am sad because we are not remembering Gilad Shalit here in America. This is not because of Michael Jackson, though Americans prefer pop culture to foreign politics. It is not even because America is not a Jewish country. Even American Jews are largely ignoring this important day. As I scrolled down my list of tweets this morning—the list of comments by those I follow on Twitter—I looked for the #Gilad that would signify people tweeting about the 23-year-old solider still in captivity after four years. I could not find it. I looked at the URJ’s tweets about child obesity, gay pride, and interfaith families. I looked at NFTY and read about local events. I looked at the RAC’s tweets about Greening Reform Judaism, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Iran sanctions and Darfur. There is a fringe group of activists in New York City taking a flotilla around the Statue of Liberty and passed the UN building, but other than that very little about Shalit is mentioned by American Jews.
They are remembering Gilad in Israel. On Sunday morning his family—his mother Aviva, father Noam, and brother and sister will march from Mitzpe Hila in the Galil to Jerusalem to camp in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Thousands of people are expected to join them as they walk from northern Israel to its heart, and thousands more are donning yellow ribbons in support. Aviva and Noam Shalit say they will remain camped across the street from the PM’s residence until they receive word that Gilad is coming home.
In Judaism we focus on life. The Talmud teaches that whoever saves one life, it is as if the entire world had been saved. We are also taught that we should pay an exorbitant amount for the freedom of captives if we are asked. Every life is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and anyone who would intentionally do harm to another human being attempts to destroy the image of God. Gilad Shalit is a young man who, if allowed to live free, has his whole life ahead of him. The very notion that Gilad Shalit might still have a chance to live his life is cause for all Jews to do whatever we can to support his family on their march and to call for Israel to do what it can to bring him home safe.
In a few moments we will rise and chant the ancient words of our Aleinu prayer, expressing our hope that the day will come when all people, all over the world, will behave as one. Bayom hahu yihyeh Adonai echad ush’mo echad, “On that day Adonai will be one and God’s name will be one.” That can only happen when we treat every life as valuable, precious, expressions of godliness. I pray that the world would value the life of one young soldier as much as it does the death of the King of Pop. Until that day, we need to raise our voices in prayer and song. We need to let it be known to our friends, our families, our congress and senators, that we do not want to wait anymore. Free Gilad Shalit.
Meanwhile, we offer our prayers for Gilad and all Israeli soldiers who risk their lives every day to make our Holy Land a safer, better place.