The tags bear the names of Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev, their ages, and the date the three were captured this summer by Hamas and Hezbollah. All on one chain, they are part of the Free the Soldiers campaign launched in December by United Jewish Communities and a handful of other organizations and supported locally by UJA-Northern New Jersey.
Avi Naiman has not removed his army dogtags since he received them, but the tags around his neck are not in his name.
The federation is selling the chain for $5, as a way not only to remember the soldiers but to raise awareness about them in others.
"It’s a form of showing solidarity," said Ruth Siev, UJA-NNJ’s coordinator of the Free the Soldiers campaign. "When you walk around with dogtags, people will ask you why you’re wearing them."
The campaign’s primary focus, Siev said, is to send a petition to the new U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. UJC wants to collect one million signatures before presenting it to the secretary general around Purim, with copies also going to President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"It’s an important initiative that we need to focus on, especially at this point with a new secretary general at the United Nations. [We need to] let him know we’re not going to forget this and it has to be at the forefront of all discussions," Siev said.
While the tags cost only $3 if ordered through Free the Soldiers Website, the extra $’ charged by UJA will go toward a "symbol of solidarity" to be sent to Nahariya. Siev said. The symbol is a button with pictures of the three soldiers and a Hebrew slogan that translates to "returning the Jews to their homes." The buttons will be sent to the estimated 4,000 students at the Amal school in Nahariya.
Naiman, who spoke in December at press conference in central New Jersey to kick off the campaign, said the welfare of the captive soldiers is a personal issue for North Jersey because two of them, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Shalit, were born in UJA-NNJ’s sister city of Nahariya. Naiman is the overseas chair of UJA-NNJ and promotes the sister-city relationship here and in Israel. (See letters, page 16.) Through his trips there he has become close with Goldwasser’s family, who still live in Nahariya.
"These are youngsters whose lives are ahead of them," he told The Jewish Standard. "This is not a campaign for three names or three faces, but for three people close to our hearts, particularly because of Nahariya."
To bring attention to the partnership between the city and UJA, Naiman speaks to school and shul groups through the year. His focus lately has been on the three soldiers, and the response has been tremendous, he said. Schools and synagogues have been ordering tags by the hundreds, he said.
The dogtags are a great visible symbol for the campaign, Naiman added.
"Everybody asks me what I’m wearing and that gives me the opportunity to remember not just for myself but to explain the situation," he said.
Siev met last week with Israel action chairs from area synagogues to ask them to take part in the campaign. David
Cohen of Cong. Gesher Shalom in Fort Lee said that although the dogtag campaign has only just started at his synagogue, he expects it to be "enthusiastically received." Anything related to the Israel Defense Forces and its battle against terrorism is important to the synagogue, he said.
As Hezbollah and Hamas continue to hold the soldiers captive, it is important that everybody continue to remind the United Nations and all countries that this situation is unacceptable, Cohen said.
Shalit, a corporal, was captured in Kerem Shalom and taken into Gaza after a cross-border raid June ‘5. Egypt is mediating stalled negotiations between Israel and Hamas, one of the groups responsible for the raid and the group believed to be holding Shalit. Goldwasser and Regev, both staff sergeants who are reservists, were captured July 1’ in Keren Shalom in northern Israel, after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border.
"What we’re trying to do is keep the three soldiers prominent in everyone’s minds because as time passes, people forget there are three people being held against their will and they should be returned as soon as possible," he said.
For more information on the campaign or to order dogtags, visit www.freethesoldiers.org or call Siev at UJA, (’01) 488-8585.