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Chief Rabbi Metzger issues prayer for return of Gilad Shalit

Rabbi Yona MetzgerIsraeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger has issued a prayer for the safe return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit which he planned to distribute and read in synagogues throughout Israel on Yom Kippur and weekly on Shabbat after the Torah reading.

Metzger himself read the prayer out loud for the first time at a special rally at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Monday night that drew 10,000 protesters, who called for the return of Shalit. He has been in Hamas captivity since June 2006.

Calling on G-d to strengthen Shalit and to speedily re-unite him with his family, Metzger said that he had raised the issue of the young man’s fate with religious leaders around the world, including Muslim figures, and asked them to do what they can to secure the soldier’s release.

“If there is a possibility to return him a day or even an hour earlier and that opportunity is not seized, then this is a crime,” Metzger said.

Although the rally was mostly secular in nature, it drew heavily on the theme of atonement.

In a modern version of a Yom Kippur prayer, teens and young adults who had never met Shalit stood on a small makeshift stage in the square and publicly begged forgiveness for failing to secure his release.

As if it was a refrain to a spontaneous prayer, looking out at their fellow protesters, each one said, “Forgive us Gilad.”

A university student named Uri said he was very aware that “we are standing here in the open air while you are there in intolerable conditions.”

“Forgive us Gilad that we the Israeli students and the future leaders of the country have not done enough to release you,” he said.

Among those who took the stage was Shlomo Goldwasser, whose son Ehud was held captive by Hezbollah for two years before his body was returned in July.

But that night he said that he was addressing the audience not as “Udi’s father as most people knew him, but simply as a frustrated citizen who was upset that the Israeli government appeared to care more for the rights of those living in Gaza than Gilad.

“What is happening here?” he asked, calling on the government to prioritize Gilad’s rights.

“In the 834 days that Gilad has been held captive, elected officials have been concerned about their seats, the global market, the budget, in fact everything but securing Gilad’s release.

“This is true even though the return of a soldier is one of the motivating symbols for the youngsters who enter the army to defend the government.

“There is no problem without a solution and the nation which chooses is calling on you from here to bring Gilad back,” said Goldwasser.

In a spontaneous move, Gilad’s father Noam took the stage toward the end of the rally, which had been organized by a grass roots movement of friends and concerned citizens.

Noam had intended simply to listen, but he was so moved by what he heard, that he publicly thanked the public for standing up for his son.

“Public support has grown as the days have passed and it has given us the strength to continue our seemingly endless fight for Gilad,” said Noam.

“I have no words with which to thank you,” he added.

After the rally, a number of teens from the Scouts youth movement, scores of whom had attended the rally, gathered around Noam to speak with him.

Some of them handed him a book of poems that had recently been released in honor of Gilad. As protesters scattered, a group of teens from the Bnei Akiva movement sat on the pavement and sang songs.

Behind them, taped onto the cement pavement, were handwritten messages to Gilad from people across the country.

Small children drew pictures with hearts on them and adults wrote out their own personal messages of forgiveness.

As they left the rally, one of the organizers urged those who attended not to let a day pass without taking some action to bring Gilad home.

Earlier this week, the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Maashal said that talks with Israel over Shalit’s release were “at a standstill,” blaming “a lack of reliability of Israeli negotiators.”

The Le Figaro newspaper quoted Mashaal as saying that Israeli negotiators were continuing to rehash issues already agreed.

The French daily said he gave the interview from a residence in Damascus, Syria. Last month a ministerial committee finalized a list of 450 Hamas prisoners Israel was willing to release in exchange for Shalit.

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