JCRC rallies support for captured soldiers

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The Jewish Community Relations Council has focused its efforts on advocating for the release of the three Israeli soldiers kidnapped by in 2006.

Gilad Shalit, 20, was captured by Hamas in the Gaza Strip in June, 2006. Ehud Goldwasser, 31, and Eldad Regev, 26, were captured by Hezbollah forces near Israel’s border with Lebanon on July 12, 2006.

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The JCRC is seeking to spread the word about the plight of the captive soldiers in order to bring about a broad community response, according to Batya Abramson-Goldstein, executive director of the JCRC in St. Louis.

It seems that everywhere the organization meets, the portraits of the three captive soldiers are close at hand, a constant reminder of the young lives now in limbo, and their families left in turmoil.

At the council’s meeting at Shaare Zedek earlier this month, the portraits hung on the wall, and a video presentation was shown to the council’s members of Goldwasser’s wife, Karnit, making a heart-wrenching appeal asking for help to bring her husband home.

The JCRC has mobilized its membership, Abramson-Goldstein said, to write letters to national legislators, urging international pressure to force Hamas and Hezbollah to abide by International Geneva Conventions and provide ‘proof of life’ for the captured soldiers.

“You look at the photos and you see young people who were just plucked out of their lives,” Abramson-Goldstein said. “It’s so important that we don’t forget about these young men and their families.”

The advocacy effort is particularly poignant, she said, at the time of Passover. “Passover is a holiday of freedom, celebrating the freeing of captives,” she said. “It’s a time when families come together, so knowing that these families will have empty seats at their seder table makes it even more appropriate to keep focused on these soldiers and advocate on their behalf.”

“One value of primary importance in Judaism is to ‘free the captive,’ so what we are trying to do is not only an important humanitarian mission, but also acting on an important part of our tradition,” Abramson-Goldstein said.

Part of that advocacy, she said, is reaching out to Missouri legislators.

“We’ve talked with Senators Bond and Carnahan, who have both expressed their support,” Abramson-Goldstein said.

And the group has also met locally to advocate for the soldiers. In March, Terry Bloomberg, president of JCRC, Abramson-Goldstein and Jeffrey Stiffman, JCRC’s Israel Advocacy Chair and rabbi emeritus of Shaare Emeth, met with officials from the American Red Cross at the St. Louis headquarters in Creve Coeur.

Once again, the photos of the soldiers followed, providing a backdrop for the meeting. As Bloomberg started out the meeting, she stressed the importance of prompt action by individuals and humanitarian organizations and thanked the Red Cross for their work so far.

“We all have to do our part, whether it’s on the local, national or international level. These young soldiers have been taken captive, and their families have no idea whether they are alive, or dead, or if they are being cared for,” Bloomberg said to the officials.

The Red Cross officials told the JCRC contingent that they were supporting International Red Cross officials have been working to help the situation, and have been particularly working with the Arab counterpart to the Red Cross, the Red Crescent to begin dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah on behalf of the soldiers.

“We want you to know that we are doing everything we can to advocate for these soldiers,” said Joseph White, CEO of the American Red Cross St. Louis Chapter.

Rabbi Stiffman presented Joseph Pereles, a member of the Board of Governors for the national American Red Cross organization, with reproductions of the captured Israeli soldiers’ dog-tags, as a reminder of their plight.

Stiffman worked with the JCRC to craft a Passover prayer for the captured soldiers, which was emailed out to group members.

Abramson-Goldstein said she hopes community members will think of the soldiers, and advocate for them, or sign an online petition at www.freethesoldiers.org, or include them in their prayers.

“The most important thing is that we not forget,” she said.