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American Jews Upbeat on Shalit Release Deal

American Jewish organizations that were deeply involved in campaigns to raise awareness about captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit’s case issued some cautiously optimistic statements in reaction to news of a deal to release Shalit approved by the Israeli government early Wednesday morning.

The Jewish Federations of North America President and CEO Jerry Silverman spoke of an emotional connection, having just recently met with Shalit’s family in the tent outside the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem.

“Having had the privilege of sitting with Aviv and Noam Shalit in their tent, and seeing the pain of five years of captivity of a child, hearing this news, I don’t have words to describe how grateful and overjoyed I am for them and their family,” said Silverman.

“It is difficult to find words to describe the excitement and relief being felt here in Israel on this day. I know that Jewish communities across North America share these emotions,” added Rebecca Caspi, director general of JFNA’s Israel office.

“The Jewish Federations stand with Israel in times of need as well as in times of celebration,” Caspi said. “We are acutely aware of the difficulty and pain of those victims of terror and their families who have had to accept the release of terrorists from prison. Our thoughts go out to these Israelis while we pray for Gilad’s speedy re-entry to life in Israel.”

“The redemption of captives, along with the supreme value of human life, are among the most important teachings in Judaism. We empathize with the Israeli government over the difficult choices it was forced to make in agreeing to this deal, but we are also overjoyed of the news that Gilad Shalit may now be heading home to his parents and loved ones, and back with the People of Israel,” Caspi added.

Leaders of the Reform Movement echoed these sentiments. “On the eve of Sukkot, the holiday known as Zman Simchatanu – a time of rejoicing – we rejoice at the prospect of Gilad Shalit’s release,” Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffe said in a statement.

“We wait expectantly for [Shalit’s] safe return, and pray that he is in good health and can be embraced of his family and the citizens of Israel. While we know that negotiators for the State of Israel paid a high price, we support and applaud the Israeli Government for bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion,” Yoffe’s statement read.

“This is a magnificent moment for the people of Israel, those of us who have been working for Gilad’s release the past 5 years, and above all for the Shalit family,” said Jewish Council for Public Affairs President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

“Gilad’s prolonged captivity, internationally condemned for its cruel isolation, has been a painful daily challenge for a country where mandatory military service for young men and women is a shared national experience,” Gutow said.

“The supreme importance of Gilad’s return is underscored by the difficult decision Israel’s leaders had to make in exchange: the release of 1000 terrorist prisoners many of whom are associated with the murder of Israeli men, women and children,” Gutow added.

Americans for Peace Now welcomed the news of a deal for Shalit’s release and expressed hope that the deal “will open better channels of communications between the Israeli government and Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip for the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

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