At the Gilad Shalit tent: history in the making

By Jason Roston, October 12, 2011
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History was never my favourite subject. When my teachers used to say enthusiastically "history happens around us all the time" I never really understood what they meant.

History happens? History is history, it's in the past, how can it happen in the present? At least that is what I used to think until this week, when for the first time in my life I was fortunate enough to witness a truly historic moment.

The news came that after 1934 days in captivity, the release of Gilad Shalit was not only realistically back on the table, but already signed by Benjamin Netanyahu. And I was there, with his friends and supporters, as the news fed through.

The entire night had been unique even before hearing the news about Gilad. As part of the FZY Year Course program, for which I am a leader, speakers on a range of issues, from Judaism to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and from left-wing activists to right-wing settlers, are invited in to the campus at Beit Ar-El in Jerusalem.

We had a chance to witness history in the making

Tonight's speaker was the mother of one of our own FZY-niks, Yael Gladstone. Marsha, came to talk to us about her son who unfortunately was one of the victims of a bus bomb terrorist attack in Tel Aviv nine-years-ago to the day.

We listened to her tell the inspiring story of how her son, Yoni, lived his life to the full each day, of the tragedy regarding his death and the controversy surrounding the immediate aftermath, when, after giving the okay for his organs to be donated, the family received a call from an Israeli reporter asking how they felt that his kidneys had been transplanted to a Palestinian girl.

Watching her talk, with her daughter - now nearly the same age of her son when he died- in the audience, was incredibly moving. Beyond this, it was inspiring to hear of Marsha's courage in actively seeking to find the young girl whose life had been saved by her son's kidneys.

Halfway through the talk I received a call from an excited colleague. She was practically singing down the phone to me with the news that Gilad Shalit was being released. The decision is final, she said. Deals have been drafted and signed by the government.

History was being written right there and then. She put the phone down and I returned to hear the end of Marsha's story.

At the end of the talk I had to somehow thank Marsha for giving such a touching and personal account and explain to the solemn faces in front of me that we had a chance to witness history in the making. If only my old school teachers could have been there to hear me say that.

We headed straight to the Shalit tent to show support and to be a part of history. The atmosphere was intense, lively and most of all it was joyous. Despite the Shalit family not wanting to celebrate until they have Gilad back in their arms, we couldn't help hide our excitement and conceal our joy.

It seemed quite fitting that here in Jerusalem, a historic city full of controversy, situated in the centre of a world stricken with pain, suffering and heartbreak, that dancing hugging and singing erupted all around, filling the streets nearby.

I'm sure the debates surrounding his release will continue into the days that follow but now the Shalit family's dream, after five long years of waiting, and convincing the world that their son deserved to be returned home, may indeed come true.

In years to come when people are talking about Gilad Shalit, if someone turns to me and asks "So where were you when Gilad was released?" I'll reply "with his family".

Jason Roston is a Birmingham university graduate and a leader of FZY and Young Judea's year course program.

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Last updated: 1:49pm, October 12 2011