Is Gilad Shalit a Hero?

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Gilad Shalit greets BibiPlease welcome Hadassah Levy for today’s guest post.

Gilad Shalit has been called a hero by many in the days coming up to his release and the days following. Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Shalit on Monday, Oct. 24, and told him that he is a real hero for surviving captivity for 5 years. On the other hand, Ben Caspit, in an article in the Hebrew newspaper Ma’ariv, claimed that Shalit is the very opposite of a hero. He didn’t defend his country or even die trying, but was taken into captivity by the enemy and then freed at a very high price.
The word “hero” is bandied about often. The Shalit case is another opportunity to examine what the words “hero” and “heroism” mean to us, and whether there is a difference between a hero and a victim.
Dictionary.com defines a hero as: 1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. 2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal.
It is difficult to find a heroic act which can be pinned on Gilad Shalit. Although he enlisted in the army as a combat soldier and regularly risked his life while on duty, this does not make him more heroic than thousands of other soldiers in the IDF. He survived 5 years of captivity, but this passive act that may say more about his luck than his heroism. He has been gracious and polite since his return home, but this is more about good breeding than any extraordinary abilities.
So why are so many calling him a hero? The cynics among us claim that assigning hero status to Shalit allows us to romanticize his return and conveniently forget the high price (both now and in the future) of the deal which brought him home. But it may be that the key is in the second definition of the word “hero”: heroism is judged by the opinion of others. Throughout Shalit’s ordeal, Jews everywhere and Israelis especially have connected emotionally with his plight. His release, despite all the political controversy surrounding it, was truly an inspiring moment. Gilad Shalit became a symbol and an inspiration to a whole nation, and for this reason people are calling him a hero.
The term hero might be the wrong one, since most of us will not be teaching our children to emulate Gilad Shilat. But he is a symbol of resilience, Israeli pride and Jewish values. As he goes about the task of rebuilding his life, this is what he will be remembered for. Hadassah Levy is website manager and digital marketer for Jewish Ideas Daily. She thanks her social media community for their thoughts on this topic.
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Comments

  1. I believe he is a hero, the same way Holocaust survivors are heroes even if they didn’t actively uprise. He got through. And the strength necessary to get through, the personal pushing… Most of us can’t imagine. It would probably have been easy to succumb if he let himself.

    Incidentally, isn’t fighting for your country enough to make you a hero? Because he didn’t choose to die instead of being taken, he’s less?
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  2. I’m with staying afloat on this. Yes, perhaps he was passively heroic rather than the classic active/violent hero, but it shows tremendous strength of character to come out of such an awful ordeal as seemingly “together” as he has done. Remember he was only 19 when he was kidnapped. I know he was a soldier, but 19 is still a teenager! To come to maturity in a dungeon in Gaza surrounded by people who hate you and would probably kill you at the drop of a hat, and to be able to smile, stand straight and salute smartly on your release – that’s pretty heroic to me.

  3. I am not actually sure we should call Holocaust survivors heroes. Whether they survived or not, anyone persecuted by the Nazis is a victim. I am not sure they can be called anything else, unless they took some action which could be considered heroic. Would we call people who died in the 9/11 attacks heroes? I don’t think so. But we would definitely call the fire fighters and police who came to help heroes.

    It’s great that Gilad survived and seems to be in great shape mentally, but it still seems more appropriate to consider him a victim than a hero.

  4. There is always a certain amount of “luck” when one individual is provided an opportunity to express his heroic potential (as opposed to many others who may or may not possess the same qualities).

    Passivity is not in itself an obstacle to being a hero – as per the mishna in Avot (Ch. 4).

    Still, I agree with your conclusions although I am more than a bit troubled by the tone of Ben Caspit’s article and the likes much too quick to judge an impossible situation.

  5. Ben Caspit is very harsh, not even giving Gilad the benefit of being a victim, rather blaming him for the situation. In Besheva this week, there was a quote saying that a soldier should go in to enemy territory either on a stretcher or dead, definitely not walking. That seems to be in line with Caspit’s attitude.

    Do you see “kovesh et yitzro” to be a passive act? Also, that’s the kind of heroism no one else knows about. But Gilad is being called a hero publicly, resulting in people trying to put a name to the heroic act. I do think it’s much more about how we see him, then anything he has or hasn’t done.

  6. US Navy Officer says:

    Gilad will have a bit of a hard time finding a girlfriend. The media turned him into a celebrity. 85% of females will not be eager to subject themselves to being papparazzi-targets.