It takes a Village ~ How Michelle Levy and Gilad Shalit came to belong to us all.

On Saturday night an eleven year old Jewish girl from Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs had a fight with a member of her family and stormed out the house. Anyone who has ever had an eleven year old daughter needs no further explanation, it is an exceptionally difficult age, especially if you are female and have parents. In Sydney however, a missing child is a walking target for crimes which are every parent’s worst nightmare. Within hours, family and friends were searching the local neighbourhood and after it became clear that she was not with friends or relatives, her parents reported her ‘missing person’ status to the police. By the time I woke up Sunday morning (in Israel), the entire Sydney Jewish community was out searching for Michelle, late into the night, and reporting back on a Facebook page that had been set up for the purpose of sharing information. Suddenly Michelle belonged to us all.

Shortly after Gilad Schalit was kidnapped, I cut out his picture from a clipping from the Australian Jewish News and hung it on my fridge. It was my way of keeping him and his family in my consciousness as I went about my daily chores. It ground me down, it tested my faith, it frustrated me, it made me feel helpless and hopeless, but I felt that it was my responsibility as a Jewish mother, to look into the eyes of that young missing soldier every single day and, if even just for a moment, pray for his safe return. As the years dragged on, the picture on my fridge began to show signs of ageing and after we made Aliyah in 2008, and our fridge was delivered, I stuck that same old picture back up on the top right corner next to a large picture of a sunflower.

In the days leading up to Gilads return home, Jews across the world sat glued to the TV and internet, for somehow we felt that Gilad belonged to us all, for we had taken him deep into our hearts. I don’t know much about what happened to him after he came home though I did hear via the grapevine that he came to speak to the Australian Jewish community at an appeal. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for his family and for the young man himself to return to his life after his traumatic five year incarceration but now, that’s none of my business. The feeling of communal ownership is something that seems appropriate only in crisis, and celebration.The safety of even one single missing child is our joint responsibility, the integration of that missing child back into her or his home and life is a very private affair that must be respected and left to those intimately involved.

This morning I woke up early to find “Found!!!’ written on my sister in laws Facebook status. I was relieved, as was the entire Jewish community, all over the world. We don’t really care why Michelle ran away, young girls do that. We don’t need to know all the details of her life or or her family history, it’s really not our business, all we need to know is that she is safe, and home.

Yet I can’t help but feel that both Galit and Michelle, are communal heroes, for they showed us the best in ourselves, as individuals and as a community. Every Jewish mother who jumped into her car and went out with a torch to search her local park, every teenage boy who left their studies (for matriculation exams) and spent days and nights searching for this child, every father at home with small children who prayed for her safe return, every young adult who printed and posted pictures and spent the night distributing them, all heroes too. And this is what it means to be Jewish – when a child from the village goes missing, she belongs to us all.

May all our children be safe.

About the Author
Born in South Africa, raised in Sydney and still shocked but recovering in Israel, Rebecca Bermeister writes about all things Israeli from the arsim at the hairdresser, to the politics of the Temple Mount. Exploring the brilliant tapestry that makes up this fascinating country, her short pieces are both poignant and amusing.