Shalom Life | April 13, 2014

Thousands Gather To Hear Gilad Shalit Speak in Toronto

Shalit, who was held captive by Hamas for close to 2,000 days, arrived in Toronto as part of a Canadian speaking tour

By: Daniel Koren

Published: September 17th, 2013 in News » World

Over 3,000 arrived at Toronto's Beth Tzedec Synagogue last night to hear from a man who has become a living testament to the international Jewish and Israeli communities: Gilad Shalit.

Kidnapped by Hamas and held in captivity for five years, the 27-year-old French-Israeli arrived in Toronto as part of a Canadian speaking tour (he is set to speak in Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary next) to thank those who supported him throughout his terrifying ordeal.

"I was never supposed to be up here, speaking to 3,000 people," he told the crowd.

Five years ago, Shalit was a typical Israeli teenager who liked video games and sports; neither muscular or brawny, he would likely serve his three years in the Israeli Defense Forces before returning home and finding a career that was best suited for him.

"But this was not my fate," Shalit said to the solemn members of the community who listened passionately to his every word while waving Israeli and Canadian flags.

Of course, those in attendance required no reminder of this fact, as many of them, alongside fellow-minded activists across the world, rallied together to bring forth and advocate for his release.

Shalit had been captured on June 25th, 2006, when he was stationed at an Israeli army post and was attacked by militants who entered Israel by forging a tunnel underneath the Gaza border fence. Two of the members of his crew died when attackers tossed grenades into the tank, and Shalit was forced out at gunpoint.

For the next 1,941 days, Shalit was held in captivity at an undisclosed location in the Gaza Strip. During this time, he became a symbol for the Israeli people; his face was constantly plastered in the news in Israel, the United States, Canada and across the world. Jewish and human rights groups organized rallies and events that aimed to ensure his release from captivity. His family had even embarked on a campaign that had them residing in a protest tent opposite the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem.

His story touched both the Israeli and Jewish communities in a deep and utterly meaningful way.

"I’m so thankful that you counted the days of my captivity and never forgot about me," he said to audience at Beth Tzedec. "I was not even a religious Jew but I appreciated your prayers. I am inspired by your commitment."

On October 18, 2011, after five years in captivity, Gilad Shalit was finally released from captivity. His freedom came at a high price, however, in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, 280 of which were serving life sentences for murder.

It was the highest price Israel had ever paid for the life of one man.

Today, Shalit works as a sports columnist in Israel. At last night's event, he was presented with a symbolic Toronto Maple Leafs jersey with the number 18, a symbol of 'chai' (life).

The exchange brought forth a standing ovation from those in attendance, including Linda Frum, conservative member of the Senate in Canada, Josh Cooper, Jewish National Fund CEO, and Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism.

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