[EXCLUSIVE VIDEO & PHOTOS IN EXTENDED ARTICLE]
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations welcomed Sergeant Major Gilad Shalit to his extended Jewish family as they marked his release after more than five years in captivity by Hamas terrorists, freed only eight months ago. Gilad Shalit took the podium with a shy smile to thank everybody for their efforts for his release and express his gratitude that so many people worked tirelessly to get him released. He said he knew of some efforts from Arabic broadcasts but not the extent that he learned about in a video entitled Five Years to Freedom, cataloging rallies, demonstrations and public displays including a digital billboard in Times Square and the True Freedom Flotilla, a water bound rally that sailed the East River as well as the proclamation of Gilad Shalit Day by Speaker Christine Quinn and members of the City Council at City Hall on September 7, 2011.
Scores of leaders of the Conference’s member organizations were greeted by Deputy Consul General of Israel, Shlomi Kofman, and Arik Henig, noted columnist for the Yidiot Aharonot newspaper who arranged Shalit’s trip.
Conference of Presidents Chairman, Richard B. Stone addressed attendees stating that the Jewish community made Gilad’s freedom “a daily priority” and that though there is nothing that could be done to compensate him for the trauma he endured that he had the company of thousands of Jews the world over whose thoughts and prayers were with him every day that he was kept from his community, his country and his family.
Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents, Malcolm Hoenlein presented Gilad Shalit with two gifts 1) a 6 inch thick volume, Letters to Gilad, chronicling tens of thousands of letters collected throughout his captivity and 2) a volume of Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot). Mr. Hoenlein expressed gratitude to Gilad for the unity he brought to the Jewish people the world over. Gilad Shalit said that he has been so busy he did not realize that this was the sixth anniversary of his capture. Hoenlein said he hoped Gilad’s life in the future would be full and happy so that he will always forget the anniversary of his captivity. Mr. Hoenlein stated, that it is the lessons and important messages in the Ethics of the Fathers that drive the Jewish people every day and motivate them to care for others and all the community did for Shalit. He said, though Gilad suffered at the hands of his captors that it is indeed his captors who were truly imprisoned by their blind hatred that drove them to take a soldier from his country, a Jew from his community and a child from his family.
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