Karnit Goldwasser told a crowd of ’00 people on Sunday that it is still crucial to remember her husband, Udi, an Israeli soldier held by Hezbollah for more than 500 days, with no sign or word that he is even alive.
Speaking quietly, before the full sanctuary at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, Goldwasser stressed that it is still important to sign petitions, send postcards, and support legislation so that American lawmakers and world leaders know that people have not forgotten Udi, whose full first name is Ehud. He was kidnapped on July 1′, ‘006, along with Eldad Regev, while on patrol in the north of Israel.
"It was his first time [doing reserve service] in the north of Israel," Goldwasser said, recounting one of the last times she spoke to her husband. "He said, ‘Karnit, it’s going to be like a vacation’ He loved the north. He’d call and say he found a place to have a picnic, to bring the dog."
Udi Goldwasser and Regev were abducted by members of Syrian-sponsored Hezbollah during a raid into Israel. Two weeks before that abduction, Gilad Shalit had been kidnapped from the Israeli side of the Gaza border by the terrorist organization Hamas. After the kidnappings of Udi Goldwasser and Regev, Israel went to war, attempting to rout Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon.
Calm and dignified, Goldwasser stressed that if Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, he needs to give up something. That something, she said, should be a sign from the missing soldiers.
"Nasrallah wants to be accepted as a leader in the world. He needs to bring something to the world to earn that acceptance," she said. "He needs to accept the Geneva Convention," which dictates humane treatment of prisoners of war.
But to date, she added, Nasrallah has denied Red Cross access to both her husband and Regev. And letters and Bibles sent via the Red Cross continue to languish in the Red Cross Beirut office. Only Shalit’s Hamas captors have confirmed that he is still alive and indicate that they are willing to negotiate an exchange.
Billed as "A Conversation with Karnit Goldwasser" the program was put together by Barnert’s Israel Action Committee and its chairman, Bill Frechtman, with support from UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. There was a question-and-answer session, and speakers included not only Goldwasser, but also Israel Deputy Consul General Benjamin Krasna; New Jersey Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36th Dist.), a sponsor of legislation seeking the return of the soldiers; a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.); the congregation’s Rabbi Elyse Frishman; and Gabrielle Flaum, a 17-year-old from Short Hills, who started the student group Save Our Soldiers, an international organization focusing on the plight of the kidnapped soldiers.
But Goldwasser was the focus, with her quiet strength shining through her careworn face. Before she even spoke, the crowd stood for an ovation, honoring a woman who has spent her only two wedding anniversaries without her husband. Generous and thoughtful, she spoke always of the three, stressing that she was the representative of "Eldad, Gilad, and Udi."
Both Goldwasser and Krasna stressed that only public demand can keep the issue of the kidnapped soldiers on the public agenda. Each noted that there has been a considerable drop in interest this year at the United Nations’ General Assembly. Last year, when events surrounding the kidnapping and war were still fresh, they had no trouble getting appointments with U.N. representatives. But this year the story was not the same.
Krasna noted that 60 years ago, on Nov. ‘9, the United Nations voted for partition between Israel and Trans-Jordan, placing Israel within its pre-1967 borders. But, he added, no matter where current talks like those held recently at Annapolis lead, the issue of the soldiers should not be relegated to the backburner.
"The willingness and openness of world leaders there has been a precipitous drop from last year to this year," said Krasna.
Noting that New Jersey is the first state in the nation to pass a resolution demanding the prisoners’ freedom, Krasna said that supporting such legislation is a way to keep the issue alive, as are writing campaigns, petitions, and rallies.
"My husband wasn’t chosen because he is Udi Goldwasser, or someone else," Karnit Goldwasser said. "He was chosen because he is Israeli. He is chosen because he is Jewish. Another woman, [the wife] of another husband, could be standing here."