Free Gilad Now!  Free Gilad Now!  Free Gilad Now!  The words resonated among the buildings of downtown Atlanta on Thursday, November 11th as hundreds congregated in Centennial Olympic Park to call for the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Hundreds of men, women and children armed with flags and colorful banners listened to impassioned speeches, watched heart wrenching videos and stood together in song and chant all for Gilad Shalit, Israel’s unforgotten son.

Rabbi Lee Buckman of Greenfield Hebrew Academy and Rabbi Adam Starr of Congregation Young Israel of Toco Hills collaborated with the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast United States to organize the event.  Over fifty organizations sponsored it.

“Today we say to the Shalits that we will never abdicate our duty to bring Gilad home.  We will shout loud enough so that our promise will resound in the ears of every young Israeli child who one day will be called to defend the Homeland of the Jewish people.  We will shout loud enough so that every 18-year old Israeli soldier is assured that one life means everything,” said Rabbi Buckman.

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from an Israeli military outpost on June 25, 2006 by Hamas terrorists. His Hamas captors have refused him access to outside medical care from the International Committee of the Red Cross or communication with his family.  No one knows exactly where he is being held.

Opher Aviran, Consul General of Israel to the Southeast United States, addressed the ICRC directly during his speech at the rally. “We are urging today for the Red Cross to fulfill its humanitarian mission. Please, do everything in your power to facilitate a meeting with Gilad.

Please, work to bring signs of life from Gilad Shalit to his family,” said Consul General Aviran.

After a special presentation of “Oseh Shalom Bemromav” by students of the Epstein Jewish Day School, the crowd heard a personal message from Gilad’s father, Noam Shalit.  Noam thanked the people of Atlanta for their support in a pre-recorded video and reminded everyone not to lose hope.

Rabbi Adam Starr led the group in the special prayer, “Mi Shebarach” and echoed the overall sentiments of those at the rally.  Starr cried out to the crowd, “We are here to call attention to a gross infringement of human rights, the unjust captivity and the inhumane treatment of Gilad Shalit.  We stand as one with the Shalit family!”

Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), a self-proclaimed true friend of Israel, called for unilateral support in Congress to bring Gilad home.  “I call upon Hamas to release Gilad immediately and unconditionally.  I call upon my colleagues in Congress, democrats and republicans, to join hands in this cause,” said Congressman Price.

Finally, the keynote speaker of the day took to the stage.  Natan Sharansky, a former soviet prisoner of Zion, established Israeli statesmen and author and current Executive Chair of the Jewish Agency of Israel, used his own unjust incarceration to teach the crowd the importance of never losing hope.  “To this day I meet people who tell me they wrote me letters in jail. I tell them, ‘I never received those letters, not one. But, it is important that you wrote these letters because my prison guards, the KGB, they received these letters. They knew people were fighting for me and they were scared.’ That is why I was released.  Today Gilad Shalit is not receiving our letters. They don’t tell him how we march for him. But, he knows it and that’s what gives him strength.  That’s why it is very important that every day we think about him, we write him letters and we demonstrate on his behalf,” said Sharansky.

The United States, United Nations and European Union have repeatedly called for the release of Gilad Shalit.  As of the day of the rally, Gilad had been held hostage for 1,583 days.

Photos taken by Jack P. Greene

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