Wednesday, October 12, 2011/14 Tishrei 5771

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Just days after concluding the most solemn day on our Jewish calendar, we jump into the celebration of Sukkot, one of our most joyous holidays. The festival commemorates our period of wandering in the desert through symbolic residence in temporary huts. Beyond its historical significance, the holiday is also one of our three annual harvest festivals. In that context, eating or sleeping in a sukkah teaches us to appreciate and respect the forces of nature that surround our little booth. As this year promises a particularly rainy Sukkot I fear we will have more than ample reminder of our regional climate and its impact on our lives.

As we head into Sukkot, this year we are reminded of a different temporary dwelling - the protest hut of the Shalit family, positioned near the residence of the Prime Minister of Israel since June 2010. Yesterday, Israelis and Jews around the world rejoiced as news was released about a deal between Israel and Hamas that will lead to the release of Sergeant Gilad Shalit, hopefully within a few days. Shalit's capture on the Gaza border in June 2006 was one of the major incidents immediately preceding the Second Lebanon War. For more than five years Shalit has been held hostage in contravention of international law regarding the treatment of prisoners. He has been denied any contact with the outside world, including any visitors from neutral parties such as the International Red Cross.

For more than five years, Israeli society has held their collective breathe as they prayed and hoped for his release, his fate emblematic of the terrible fear facing all parents who send their children to army service. In Vancouver, King David High School and Vancouver Hillel have worked together to keep Shalit alive in our community's conscience, organizing annual events to focus attention on his plight.

Shalit will be released in exchange for about 1,000 prisoners held by Israel - many of whom were directly involved in acts of terror against Israeli civilians. The families of those released will, no doubt, also be overjoyed. The families of their victims will likely be less thrilled, as the exchange reflects the Hobson's choice of Israeli leaders when facing the dilemma of negotiating the release of Israeli hostages.

Pundits will be analyzing the deal that has been struck, its timing, and the political motivations that drove both Israeli and Hamas' leaders to conclude a deal that has been under negotiation for years. For now, I'm just prepared to marvel at this year's Sukkot miracle, in which a young Israeli, taken into captivity at age 19, will finally be released. Today came the news that the Shalit family is vacating their sukkah of protest, as they turn to welcoming Gilad home, and picking up the pieces of their lives.

Chag sameach!

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