MONTREAL — Like Israelis and Jews the world over, the local community marked the liberation of Gilad Schalit last week with joy tempered by ambivalence, at a somewhat subdued community celebration Oct. 18 at Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation (BIBA).
As speakers made clear, the joy came from having Schalit finally freed and reunited with his family after 64 months of captivity by Hamas.
The ambivalence came from the deal that freed him. The price for Schalit’s liberation was Israel’s release of more than 1,000 Palestinians prisoners – hundreds of them convicted for their direct roles in murdering Israeli citizens.
They included those convicted for the 1993 murder in Israel of Montreal native Joshua Friedberg and the 1999 murder of Hagit Zavitsky, a niece of Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who relayed a message to the event from Ottawa.
“We had to negotiate that type of deal,” Myer Bloom, a member of audience, told The CJN. “But it is something to celebrate. Hopefully, one day there will be peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
“It is a lousy deal that demonstrates Israel at its best,” BIBA’s Rabbi Reuben Poupko told the 400 assembled as TV cameras rolled. “It reflects the best values of the IDF. The State of Israel leaves no one behind.”
Others at the hour-long event delivered a similar refrain. The fact that Israel agreed to make such a deal and pay such a high price, they said, personified the highest Jewish value of placing ultimate importance on human life.
“Yes, the price is heavy,” echoed Israeli Vice-Consul Alon Melchior, speaking for Consul General Joel Lion, who was in Halifax. “Hamas is celebrating the messengers of death. We are celebrating life.
“We see the smile on Gilad’s face and forget the price we paid.”
“It is an evening of incomplete joy but complete pride,” said Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem. “Our enemies are stronger today, [but] I’ve never been prouder of being a Jew.”
“I don’t call it a celebration. I will call it a happy occasion,” Canadian Zionist Federation Eastern Region (CZF) president Arlazar Eliashiv, a friend of the Schalit family who met with them several times in Israel, told The CJN.
“It is a no-win situation [for Israel] but we have to celebrate. “Like someone said today – I forget who – we celebrate with flowers and they celebrate with guns.”
“Today, our prayers were answered,” Joseph Alfie, a Montrealer who met with Schalit’s father, Noam, 15 months ago in Israel, told the crowd.
Federation CJA president David Cape. described the “relief and happiness” of the Jewish community. “We prayed every day for his freedom. We never lost hope,” he said.
“We are all part of the Schalit family,” Bergman said.
Those in attendance included Federation CJA CEO Deborah Corber; Saulie Zajdel, regional adviser to Tory cabinet minister Christian Paradis, and Rabbi Nadav Levin of Kollel Torah Mitzion (KTM).
The evening’s sponsors were Israel’s consulate general, Federation CJA, the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec, BIBA and KTM.