Here in Israel today, a massive march on behalf of captured solider Cpl. Gilad Shalit finally winds its way to Yerushalayim. There the Shalits will encamp, outside the Prime Minister's office. The march began last Sunday in the north, and gathered steam, energy and people each day, to the point where thousands of people have joined the family during the final legs of the march.
I wanted to join. I wanted to walk with the Shalits to tell them that my heart was with them, that they're not alone; that every Israeli - and I'm sure every Jew around the world - thinks about their plight, the suffering of their son, and prays for his safety and well-being.
But I couldn't.
I could not join the march not because I don't pray for Gilad Shalit, but because the march is a political activity intended on convincing the government to trade Gilad at any price, no matter how high. It's message is to bring Gilad home, no matter which terrorists we have to free to get him back.
And while all Israelis certainly want him home, it's not at all clear that they agree with the Shalit's on this point. The Shalits have to make their demands. Gilad is their son. It's personal. But for the government, it can't be personal. It must be a calculated decision about the nation's best interests. Sure, getting Gilad back will bring joy to his family. But what about the family of the person killed, God forbid, by the terrorist freed to bring Gilad home?
In a way, the entire tragic episode leaves me with a sense of pride: what other nation would take Gilad's capture so personally? Where else would such a march take place? What other nation would produce such an outpouring of love? Sure, here it affects us all so strongly because everyone has a family member in the army. (Short story: A coworker in YU Israel was telling me about her son's upcoming trip to Eilat to go snorkeling. My response: Sounds dangerous. Are you nervous? Her: "No, that's nothing. My other son is now patrolling the Philadelphia Corridor. So snorkeling doesn't bother me.")
But there's something greater going on here. Deeply rooted in our DNA is the principal of כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה. Gilad is our son - all of ours - so we feel his parents' pain that much more profoundly. We detach ourselves from them not because we want to, but because we have to; because our enemies count on us making a personal decision when it's the wrong decision to make.
It's a complicated calculus, not without irony. In a way, the Gilad march actually makes things worse. If the Palestinians believed that Israel didn't really care all that much about Shalit (exactly what we believe about how Hamas relates to its own children), then Gilad wouldn't be all that valuable to hold. So, as much as the protest helps, it probably hurts the real efforts to bring Gilad home. The more we protest, the more valuable he seems, and the harder it becomes to secure his release.
But tell that to a parent, who goes to sleep each night and wakes up each morning thinking about her son, held captive in a basement in Gaza.