N.J. teens put spotlight on Shalit

N.J. teens put spotlight on Shalit

'Freeze-out' and study project aim to draw attention to captured soldier's plight

Captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is the focus of two Jewish youth events with New Jersey connections in a single week.

On April 7, some 250 students on the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel were to stage a “Freeze-Out” in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall to publicize Shalit’s plight and advocate for the International Red Cross to visit the young man, who was seized by Hamas in Gaza in June 2006, two months before his 20th birthday.

And NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union, is sponsoring “Learn for Gilad” on Sunday, April 10. More than 200 teens across North America will study Jewish texts exploring freedom, dedicating their learning in Gilad’s merit with the hope that this Passover he might be able to celebrate his freedom back home with his family in Israel.

Preparing for the “Freeze-Out” for Gilad Shalit are, from left, Yossi Akrish (Haifa), Jon Karp (East Brunswick), Joel Srebrenick (South Orange), and Ayal Pierce (Demarest). courtesy of ayal pierce

Among those spearheading the Young Judaea effort was Demarest 18-year-old Ayal Pierce.

“My friends and I felt we needed to do something meaningful with our free time, and wanted to raise awareness about Gilad’s situation among Jews in America, who don’t know much about it,” said Pierce.

They decided on a “freeze-out,” where 250 of the 320 Year Course students were to don “Free Gilad Shalit” T-shirts, gather with placards at the downtown Jerusalem spot, and freeze in place for five minutes – symbolizing the nearly five years that Shalit has been in captivity.

Pierce noted that as of April 7, Shalit would have been imprisoned for 1,745 days without any basic human rights. This adds up to about 250 weeks, the same as the number of expected participants.

He and two co-coordinators from Scotland and South Orange arranged the event through their leadership to be educational. “As a non-partisan international youth movement, we cannot advocate,” he explained, “and because the Year Course gives a year of college credit, the courses [missed during the event] had to be rescheduled.”

They arranged for bus transportation to the pedestrian mall for Year Course students in Bat Yam and Arad as well as Jerusalem, said Pierce.

As president of New Jersey Young Judaea last year, when he was a senior at Northern Valley High School in Demarest, Pierce took part in a rally against nuclear Iran in Manhattan and raised money for victims of rocket attacks in Sderot.

“One of the pillars of Young Judaea is social action,” said the son of Robin and Fred Pierce. Another of his projects was Change for Change, which raised about $1,000 for child refugees in Israel and was replicated by Young Judaea chapters in other parts of the country. He hopes the idea of the Freeze-In will similarly spread throughout the youth movement’s chapters.

“Our aim is to put more pressure on Hamas and, at the very least, for them to allow the International Red Cross to check on Gilad’s health and well-being,” he said.

Rabbi Steven Burg, NCSY International Director, said the NCSY study project seeks to “remind our community and the world that we will continue to advocate, pray, and learn on his behalf. As our Jewish brother and as a Jewish hero, Gilad Shalit is always on our minds and in our hearts.”

Participating students will be paired based upon skill level and interests submitted on the online registration form (there is a link at www.ncsy.org), and will be e-mailed source materials compiled by NCSY member Shaul Yaakov Morrison of Bergenfield with the assistance of New Jersey NCSY Regional Director Rabbi Yaakov Glasser and NCSY Associate Director of Education Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin.

The concept for the project arose during NCSY’s last National Yarchei Kallah, a week-long winter vacation event for public high school students. NCSY International Teen President Amanda Esraelian of Roslyn, N.Y., and NCSY teen leader Phil Katz of Upper Saddle River were brainstorming ideas with Glasser to unify NCSYers across the nation with a singular goal to make a difference for the Jewish people.

“As we discussed many different possibilities, our thoughts began to drift to the plight of Gilad Shalit,” said Glasser. “Since he was not much older than our NCSYers when he was abducted, our teens all felt overwhelming compassion for him, but were unsure of how to contribute toward his ultimate release.”

Glasser said the idea of a day of learning in association with Passover is hoped to “galvanize all of the NCSY regions in a unified project … and be an expression of personal and religious growth on the part of teens across North America to stand in support with Gilad and his family.”

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