Recently, I gave an audience of 200 involved Jews in Montreal a pop quiz.
WE MUST ACT TO FREE THE SOLDIERS
"How many of you have heard of Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser, and Eldad Regev," I asked. Most hands shot up proudly, as people recognized the names of the three Israelis kidnapped this summer - and still held hostage by Hamas and Hezbollah. I then asked: "How many of you have done anything to support their families or demand their release?" Every single hand dropped, dejectedly.
Shame on us. How could we observe the Jewish holidays without imagining even briefly what it must have been like for these three families with a son, a brother, absent from the table? How could we celebrate without empathizing with these three young men, caught in a hellish purgatory devised to impose pain on them, their families, the State of Israel and the Jewish people?
We cannot sit idly by anymore. We must act.
There are two kinds of constructive responses to the hostage crisis. We can reach out to the three affected families with the simple message of "anachnu eetchem," we are with you. Letting these people, wracked by worry, know through cards, letters, children's drawings and little gifts that they are not alone is important. It strengthens them by placing their personal predicament in the broader sweep of Jewish history, the Israeli narrative, and the modern struggle between democracies and Islamist terror. Small gestures can't save the boys, but they can lighten the load, even momentarily, that these three families have borne since the summer with grace.
The person-to-person contact is easy. And, as my family discovered when we tried to help the three soldiers Hezbollah kidnapped ? and murdered ? in October 2000, the rewards can be tremendous. We as a family bonded so deeply with one of the families, that of Benny Avraham, of blessed memory, that my children now have a special set of Israeli "grandparents."
The greater challenge is determining what kind of political efforts will facilitate the three?s release. This requires a sophisticated analysis of the dynamics surrounding the two separate kidnappings - that of Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old with a shy smile, by Hamas on the Gaza border; and that of Ehud Goldwasser, a 31-year-old engineer, and Eldad Regev, a 26-year-old pre-law student, by Hezbollah just south of Lebanon.
Clearly, direct pressure on the two terrorist organizations is not likely to work. But constant, relentless, constructive pressure on their supporters or neighbours might help. We need to mobilize a vast coalition of Jews and non-Jews to bombard Lebanese officials and activists for the Palestinian cause - as well as western diplomats who interact with Palestinian and Lebanese officials - with a simple message: free the kidnapped victims today.
Palestinians seeking a resumption of western aid must know that until Shalit is home again, no aid will flow. And those who support the Palestinian cause, waving the flag of humanitarianism, should be challenged to try saving a young kid caught in the crossfire. "Treat him as a human. Make a stand for our common humanity," we should say.
Similarly, as the Lebanese government begs the international community for reconstruction aid, all assistance should be contingent on arranging the release of Goldwasser and Regev. This summer's ceasefire was supposed to secure their release. We cannot allow the world to forget their fates.
In late September, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper refused to join a massive pile-on against Israel at the Francophonie summit. Most of the other 72 countries were ready to approve a resolution lamenting Lebanon's suffering and not Israel's. Standing on principle, Harper forced the leaders of the world's French-speaking nations to acknowledge the suffering of everyone caught in the crossfire. Since then, many have asked how they can thank Harper, and they have responded logically by donating money to his party, by joining his party and by seeking effective candidates who can win in contested districts.
Another way to salute Harper is to emulate his example. We have an opportunity to stand on principle, to rally around a seemingly hopeless cause, and make a statement affirming humanity, democracy and civilization. If we fail, there are at least three families in Israel who will remain grateful for our efforts.