The family and friends of Gilad Shalit keep a constant vigil in a structure on the street behind the Jerusalem home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are in incessant anguish.
On June 25, 2006, Shalit, a 19-year-old soldier in the IDF, was dragged out of his bed in the middle of the night by Palestinian terrorists. He has been held captive for the last five years at an unknown location in Gaza. Hamas has forbidden him visits by the Red Cross. No one knows how he is, or under what conditions he is being held.
“It’s just heartbreaking,” said Ann Roth, a member of Rodef Shalom Congregation whose husband is a distant cousin of Shalit’s. “It makes you question everything.”
To mark the fifth anniversary of Shalit’s captivity, JFilm and the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh will present the documentary “Family in Captivity,” chronicling the struggles of the Shalit family as it copes with the pain of Gilad Shalit’s captivity, and pleads for his freedom, Tuesday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m. at the SouthSide Works Cinema.
Pittsburgh is one of 20 cities around the country where the film is premiering, said JFilm Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan. It has already been screened in Israel.
They (all the premieres) are all happening around this five-year anniversary of his capture,” she said
According to Spitz Cohan, the Israel Film Center of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, contacted JFilm about possibly screening the documentary here. She said JFilm then collaborated with the CRC to make it happen.
During her trip to Israel, Roth spent a few minutes with Shalit’s father, Noam, and his great-uncle, last November when she was in Jerusalem with the Pursuer of Peace Mission, an interfaith trip which took a local group of Catholic and Jewish leaders to Rome and Israel. Rabbi Aaron Bisno of Rodef Shalom Congregation and Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, led the trip.
“I knew they (the Shalit family) were sitting vigil in Jerusalem,” Roth said. “My mission was to find them and pay my respects and see what I could do.”
Before the beginning of Shabbat, Roth found Noam Shalit, who was sitting in an area of the vigil structure reserved for family members. He is there every day.
“I introduced myself to Noam,” Roth said. “He is one of the most soft-spoken, humble people I have ever encountered.”
The two briefly exchanged news about their cousins. Then Roth left to attend Shabbat services. Following the services, she returned to the vigil, bringing with her the Pursuers of Peace group.
“When we returned, the bishop (Zubik) and I sat down with Noam,” Roth recalled. “It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had because it was palpable pain. It was a kindred feeling, feeling someone’s pain so dramatically.”
Zubik spoke words of comfort to Noam Shalit, while the others in the group looked on, Roth said.
“It was very moving to see the most important religious figure in Southwestern Pennsylvania trying to comfort the father of Gilad Shalit,” said Jeffrey Cohan, director of the CRC, who was along on the trip.
“Part of the frustration of the situation is the sense of powerlessness. There is no doubt about it,” Cohan said. “One of the main reasons the negotiations have dragged out is that Jews around the world care so much for Gilad Shalit, and Hamas knows that, and it gives them leverage.”
Gilad Shalit’s great-uncle asked Roth to raise awareness of his great-nephew’s plight, and implored her to encourage people to write letters to Netanyahu, asking him to work toward getting Hamas to release its captive.
(Toby Tabacnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)