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.