Tonight starts the holiday of Simchat Torah - roughly translated as the Happiness of the Torah - in Israel (Jews outside Israel will celebrate this on Friday, where here in Israel, two holidays are combined into one). It's an amazing day - all year long, we read from the first five books of the Bible - the Torah. Each week, a portion until this holiday.
Then, in one reading - we read the last portion of Devarim (Deuteronomy) and immediately begin the first portion of Bereshit (Genesis). It is a very Jewish thing - this ending and beginning again. Now that I think about it - it reminds me of Elie finishing the army the very week that Shmulik started it...and Elie getting Reserve duty, the very week Shmulik ended the army. Amazing, that one, no?
Yesterday, Gilad Shalit came home. It was a day of emotions here in Israel...of hope, of concern, of anger watching the Egyptian journalist (Shahira Amin) abuse him as he struggled to breathe and answer her questions. There was fear in his eyes - almost as if he thought the dream of his freedom might slip away and this was all just a trick, more psychological torture.
By that time, we in Israel knew the deal was going to go through. It had advanced too far for even Hamas to back down so rather than fear, we felt only the fury. And then there were tears and joy. Despite the horrible price we paid for him, we could do nothing but look at Gilad and be amazed. No, they did not crush this boy. I will not give them credit for turning him into a man in the years they held him, but it was there.
They took a 19-year-old boy, but a man walked free yesterday. I have much to do to prepare for the holiday and so won't have the time to write more. I can only say that as I prepare, I will think of Gilad and hope his home is full of the smells of the holiday to come. I hope he will walk into his mother's kitchen (and yes, that is sexist - perhaps Noam is the great cook in the family). And I hope he will do what Elie and Yaakov and Chaim and Shmulik have done so often. Just nibble on everything in no particular order. From the brownies cooling in the corner, to the meat still simmering on the stove.
Eat, Gilad - gain your strength. Your greatest answer to all you have suffered is to be free, to live, to smile. May you never know loneliness again. Personally, I can't stand Shimon Peres' politics, but he said something beautiful yesterday - Gilad, you were lonely, but you were never alone.
For all that we worry about the price we paid, for all that we mourn the pain we have caused others by releasing the killers of their loved ones - everyone, each and every one of us here and so many of our friends abroad, dreamed of this very day. Yesterday, of course - but even more today.
The day you would wake in your room and without a second thought, go down to your mother's kitchen and sit there with nothing to do but talk, relax, and be free. The world awaits you - glorious things that have been created while you were in captivity. I hope someone will buy you an iPod and an iPhone and introduce you to the latest and greatest.
Welcome home, Gilad - may you go from strength to strength, in body, in mind, in soul.