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.