Reflections on Gilad Shalit and the sorrow of irreclaimable time

Gilad Shalit was in captivity for five years, frozen in irreclaimable time; five years lost to him and to his family; so much potential for productivity, for love, and for life – suspended in state, in a dark corner of the Gaza Strip. By Rabbi Joel Seltzer

It was a year filled with the indescribable joys of Torah, family and friends, while living in the modern, vibrant and endlessly complex State of Israel.

When our time in Israel was nearly up, we decided to treat ourselves to one last trip – a belated anniversary present to ourselves. And so in June of 2006 we traveled to Tiberias for a weekend of biking, hiking and swimming in the Kinneret.

As we were packing to leave, we heard the news: a soldier had been kidnapped at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, his name was Gilad Shalit, and no one knew what would ever become of him.

Unbelievably, that was over five years ago.

Whenever I have thought about, and prayed for Gilad Shalit over these past five years, I have found myself reflecting on the unspeakable sorrow which comes from the realization that time is irreclaimable. Looking back on his time in captivity, I couldn’t help but recall what has happened to my wife and myself during those five years.

We returned from Israel to America where I completed my final two years as a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. We rescued a 12 pound puppy from an Animal Shelter who is now a four-year-old behemoth. We moved to Providence, Rhode Island where I got a job as a congregational rabbi; and over the past three years I have given countless divrei torah, presided over many joyous baby namings and had the profound honor of burying those whom our congregation has lost.

We bought a house, we leased a car. The lease was up, we bought a new one. And most importantly, during these five years we were privileged to bring two beautiful daughters into this world; a two-and-a-half-year-old, and a five-month-old.

All this and more has occurred in our lives, and in everyone else’s lives, since that morning of Sunday, June 25th 2006; except for Gilad. All the while Gilad has been in captivity – frozen in irreclaimable time. Five years sitting in his cell. Five years lost to him and to his family; so much potential for productivity, for love, and for life – suspended in state, in a dark corner of the Gaza Strip.

The news of his negotiated release has brought incredible joy to the entire People of Israel, as well as the State of Israel. But we know that although he returns, he will never be able to reclaim those lost five years. That is what the terrorists have taken from him; something that can never be returned.

As part of our morning prayers on Mondays and Thursdays, we remind God that “All the House of Israel are brothers, whether they suffer oppression or imprisonment, whether at sea or on the dry land.” And after reminding God of the unity and resolve of the Jewish people, then we pray “May God have compassion upon them, taking them from confinement to freedom, from darkness to light, from enslavement to redemption, now and speedily – and let us say, Amen.”

In honor of Gilad Shalit and his long overdue return home, and in recognition of the solemnity of irreclaimable time, I say, Amen.

Rabbi Joel Seltzer is a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Providence, Rhode Island.

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