In the rush of day-today life, it is easy to forget Sgt. Gilad Shalit, reflects Michaela Elias, 16, of Teaneck.
“It’s very easy to dismiss his situation because it doesn’t have relevance in [one’s] daily life,” said Michaela. “To feel like, ‘We’ve lost that desire.’ It’s been four and a half years.'”
But for the past two years, Michaela and her sister, Tali Elias, 15, have worked to encourage people to remember Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in June 2006, two months before his 20th birthday. Since then, Shalit has, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, been denied visits from the Red Cross. Hamas has also denied him any communication with his family.
The girls, who attend The Frisch School in Paramus, have written a song and, with help from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, established a web site, www.giladgreetings.org, to raise awareness about Shalit’s plight.
The website includes a video the girls made, performing their song, to “motivate people of all faiths around the world to express solidarity with Gilad Shalit.” It also contains a prompt to send Shalit a letter for his birthday and/or Rosh HaShanah that the Conference of Presidents will deliver to the International Committee of the Red Cross, along with the demand that Hamas allow the ICRC “to visit and deliver the messages to Shalit in accordance with international humanitarian law,” according to the website.
Magen Dovid Adom, Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, refers people to the site as part of its own campaign demanding that the ICRC press Hamas to allow agency representatives to visit Shalit.
The Elias girls have helped to raise awareness about Shalit’s plight among young people, according to Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference.
“We are very concerned with the Gilad Shalit case,” Hoenlein told The Jewish Standard. “Young people often know better than we do how to reach other young people. We are thrilled to be able to help them to do so.”
Michaela wrote the song’s lyrics, which the girls together set to music. Tali sang and performed it on guitar.
Last year, Michaela and Tali played the video for Shalit’s parents, Aviva and Noam, in the tent they had raised in front of the prime minister’s residence. “We met them,” said the girls’ mother, Sheryl Elias, “and they were very moved.”
Also last year, the Presidents Conference arranged for the screening of a shortened version in Times Square before Rosh HaShanah, and earlier this year, radio host Nachum Segal played the song on his show “JM in the AM.”
The song, which has a haunting, 1960s-style melody, includes lyrics such as: “We say, ‘It is so sad’/then go on with our lives/while he sits in prison/with no end in sight.”
The video features images of Shalit as well as photos of demonstrations for his release. It includes footage of a racially-charged Hamas cartoon depicting a large-nosed Jew wearing an El Al T-shirt accompanied by a portion of the song containing the lyrics: “So we won’t have to admit there is evil in our midst/we do everything to deny it exists/so we turn away/because we’re too scared to believe/the corruption and malice that we can’t conceive.”
The girls, both of whom have studied piano and, in Tali’s case, guitar and voice, posted the video on their own YouTube channel, where it has received close to 2,500 hits. They wrote the song with encouragement from their parents, Sheryl and Ernest Elias.
The girls have also joined their fellow students at Frisch in founding StudentsUnite4Israel.org, a vehicle for Israel advocacy. The group’s first major effort is the Gilad Shalit-Fifth Son Project, to create and distribute 10,000 cards to help Jews remember Shalit at Passover seders around the world (see related story). The cards contain a space that, upon Shalit’s release, could be filled in with a date.
“We’re trying to spread it all over the world, to say prayers for him and to keep him in mind,” Michaela told the Standard.
“At Frisch, we encourage this kind of initiative from students in many areas,” said Rabbi Josh Wald, an administrator at the school. “We tried to support them any way we could, but the initiative was all theirs. We are super-proud of Ezra, Tali, Michaela, and the others for taking this to another level.”
Passover, the girls feel, is a fitting time to focus on Shalit.
“Pesach is about redemption, and this is an opportunity to help redeem a fellow Jew,” Michaela said.
“There is no one project we can do to guarantee his release, but we can make sure he is not forgotten, and everyone does their absolute best to try and ensure he is released,” said Tali.