Our Inner Gilad Shalit

     I’ve been wondering what it is about the Gilad Shalit story that captures the imagination of Israelis so much so that we want to know if he ate ketchup with the schnitzel and chips at his first supper home. Shalit is no ordinary kidnapped soldier. This is a prisoner whose family became part of the Israeli psyche. Mother Aviva is the incarnation of the biblical Rachel praying for her lost child to return home. Father Noam is the biblical Jacob, unable to rest until he sees his son alive. Gilad is Joseph, the abandoned lost son who reappears after years of silence to save the family from despair.

            If these are the characters who have appeared on Israeli TV and radio every night and in Israeli newspapers every morning, then they, like biblical archetypes, may represent different aspects of our own psyches. I think one of the reasons we could accept the Shalit deal is because Gilad represents the lost child imprisoned in all of us. Usually, this aspect of our psyches disappears during childhood through repression after a family or physical trauma. The lost child, or that part of our psyches which becomes repressed, sits and waits in a dark pit for years. Other aspects of our psyche develop and emerge into the light, but not the lost child. It can take fifty years for the return of the repressed; its worth is immeasurable.

            That’s why we cried when we saw the first signs of life on October 18—the black cap, the white shirt with blue stripes, the frail body pushed by Hamas. We were overcome with awe when, despite his frailty and pain, the returning son stood erect and saluted his saviors. We felt compassion when, driving by flag-wavers and well-wishers lining the road to Mitzpeh Hila, Gilad held his right hand over his heart. The abandoned lost child returned! He spoke with intelligence. Clearly, he was now a man with a strong will to live.

            If Gilad can return from the pit a hero, then there is hope for those of us who live  “normal lives,” but still have to repair wounded psyches.

            We are anxious to follow the hero’s progress of rehabilitation: a walk in the sun, a bike ride, a game of ping pong, meeting with friends. Each piece of news helps us to understand that Joseph lives. He is like us. He walks talks and eats schnitzel. Miracles happen. The lost child returns.

            At the Hof Hacarmel train station in Haifa two hours after Gilad returned home, a young man on Platform 1 opened the glass window covering an advertisement as high as a wall. He covered an old ad with a new one and locked the window. Everyone standing nearby saw four large black words printed on the white page:


Baruch Shuvcha Habaiytah

            At that moment we were all Yosef, the blessed child coming back from the dark.  And we were also Rachel and Jacob, waiting with open arms. We were the welcomed and the welcoming. Our hearts expanded in every direction, making room for the return of our own lost selves.

A New Day

About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
This entry was posted in Characters, Identity, Israel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Our Inner Gilad Shalit

  1. estherhecht says:

    This is absolutely wonderful. The cynic in me is overcome.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  2. I’m sharing this on Facebook. Thanks.


  3. Joan Leegant says:

    What a beautiful post. Thank you.


  4. Evan says:

    I was sad not to be in Israel for Gilad’s homecoming after waiting for so many years, like all our compatriots, for his return. I thank you for bringing him – and what we all feel for him – so much closer for me.


    • Evan, I bet when you return to Israel we’ll still be following his every move and you can join right in. There were few cars on the roads when Gilad returned because everyone wanted to watch the show on TV. I was at the Pat’ee Modi’in train station and watched the homecoming with the security people and the ticket seller, all of whom were upset when somebody came into the station and they had to work rather than watch the TV.


  5. Even from Los Angeles, on the edge of the western world, we had a visceral sense that Gilad Shalit’s return represented a story of biblical proportion. Thank you Judy for sharing its profound psychological implications as well. Beautifully done!


    • Thanks, Lisa. This a.m. when all the politicians on the radio were discussing everything bad that has happened since Shalit’s release, I realized Gilad will have great difficulty being just GS. Part of the population here will blame him for everything forever. Not easy being a biblical hero . . .


  6. tzirelchana says:

    This is post beautiful and quite accurately captures the Gilad Shalit myth which has so enthralled us. . The problem is that 1000 convicted murderers are now free. Medieval sage Rabbi Meir of Rottenburg chose to die in jail rather than allowing his community to bankrupt him by paying the ransom his captors demanded. While, I’m not suggesting that Gilad should have chosen to die I worry about the message we’ve sent to Hamas and their ilk.


  7. Ruth Mason says:



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