This past week we traveled as a Garin to Jerusalem for an overnight trip in order to visit many sites before we go into the army. One of the places that we stayed the night at and toured was Latrun, a strategic hilltop in the Ayalon valley. Latrun is a special place because of its military significance in that it overlooks the road to Jerusalem. During the British Mandate, Latrun was selected by the British as the site for one of their police forts. When the British withdrew from Israel in 1948, Latrun was handed over to the Arab Legion. The Arabs used the fort to shell Israeli vehicles traveling on the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway, causing a blockade on humanitarian aid to Jerusalem. Soon after Israel’s independence, the 7th Armoured Brigade and a battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade attempted to take over Latrun. The initial attack was unsuccessful. Other attacks followed and would remain unsuccessful. It wasn’t until the 1967 Six Day War that Latrun was finally captured by the Israel Defense Forces. Today Latrun is the site of The Armored Corps Memorial Site and Museum.

We visited Latrun on October 18, 2012, one year after Gilad Shalit was released from Hamas captivity. It was a very special day to be at Latrun since Gilad, himself, was part of the Armored Corps. A soft-spoken, skinny, nice guy, Gilad chose to go combat by serving in a tank unit even though he did not have a medical profile to serve in infantry. The fascinating tours of the best tanks in the world, the motivational videos, and the memorial for the brave Armored Corps soldiers that gave their lives for the defense of the State, all gave way to Gilad’s emotional story.

From the time of his abduction in June 2006 until his release just over a year ago, Gilad was more than just a slogan. Gilad Shalit represents every soldier in the Israel Defense Soldier. He is a fellow citizen, a middle sibling, a son to Noam and Aviva Shalit, an avid sports fan, and a brother to every one who wears the uniform of the IDF.  I never thought that we would see the day Gilad returned. His return, although with a very heavy price, was a miracle.

Today I watched Gilad Shalit’s first interview since returning home to Israel. The interview profiled his abduction, captivity, release, and his year since returning home. Gilad represents all that is good in the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He represents the spirit of volunteerism and hope for all. Gilad’s return and his ability to thrive since, has put a smile on every face. This emotional story reminds us how special life is, how to uphold the morals of the IDF enlisted in “Ruach Tzahal” (which include assisting fellow soldiers when they are in danger), and to do acts of love and kindness. Gilad Shalit is the best example of an Israeli soldier in that he hung on to hope even when things got tough. He pushed through it. He never stooped to the level of our enemies who behave like animals with disregard for innocent life. Gilad represents all that is innocent. One year later, it is incredible to say that Gilad is home and thriving.