Ari Hagler of Bergenfield knows what he wants for a bar mitzvah gift: freedom for Gilad Shalit.
After Ari’s mother showed him a video several weeks ago about the captured Israeli soldier, the 12-year-old was moved to action. “I felt really bad for him, so I tried to think what I can do to help,” he said.
Shalit was captured on June 25, 2006, when a group of Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and attacked an army facility. He has been held captive in Gaza ever since.
Ari came up with a bar mitzvah project – with some help from his parents, Chavie and Rabbi Chaim Hagler – to promote awareness of Shalit’s plight. Thus the Shabbat of Ari’s bar mitzvah, Dec. 10, will be known across the world as Shabbat Gilad.
Ari recently launched a website, www.shabbatgilad.com, to promote the program. People are invited to visit the website to register, tell how they will participate, and submit program ideas.
Ari is also asking schools to run programs that will educate students about Shalit’s plight and to implement projects to help bring about his release. Ari hopes that pulpit rabbis will make Shalit and the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim (redeeming a captive) the focus of their Shabbat morning sermons that weekend.
His goal is to get at least 100 schools and synagogues to sign up with the program. “I want to get people around the world to think about and try to help Gilad at the same time,” he said. Thus far, 25 schools and synagogues signed up, from New Jersey, Ohio, Canada, and Australia.
Ari said the concept ties in with the Torah portion that he will chant at his synagogue, Cong. Beth Abraham in Bergenfield. “In Parshat Vayigash we read about how Binyamin was imprisoned in Egypt,” said Ari. “His brother, Yehuda, refuses to leave without Binyamin, and even asks to take Binyamin’s place in prison, so that Binyamin can be set free. Yehuda becomes the first Jew to fight for a brother in jail, and it seems like an inspiration for all of us to fight for our brother, Gilad Shalit, imprisoned and alone.”
Ari, a seventh-grader at Yeshivat Noam in Paramus, where his father is the principal, said that his family has been in touch with someone close to the Shalits to let them know about his efforts. Ari and his father organized a live video conference with Gilad’s father, Noam Shalit, at the school on Sunday. About 100 people attended the event, at which Shalit said he will not rest until he brings home his son.
When participants asked what they could do to help, Shalit urged them to write letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about his son.
Chavie Hagler said that while she’s proud of her son’s recent undertaking, it came as no surprise that he would want to do something so altruistic. Ari has been very involved over the years in chesed activities, she said, such as “mitzvah-clowning,” helping to build the shul sukkah, and the Friendship Circle.
“We are very proud of Ari for his sensitivity for another Jew who is suffering and for developing ‘Shabbat Gilad’ and working so hard on it,” she added.
“For Ari, his bar mitzvah is much more than just a party, it is an understanding that he now has obligations to the Jewish people, especially those less fortunate than he is.”