Temple’s empty chair symbol of Shalit’s plight

A chair for Gilad Shalit was displayed on the bimah at Temple Emanu-El throughout the High Holidays.

During this year’s High Holiday services, an empty, decorated chair was displayed on the bimah at Temple Emanu-El as a reminder of the ongoing captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas five years ago and has been held in Gaza.

The idea for the chair came from a twinning relationship Temple Emanu-El’s Women of Reform Judaism chapter developed with a WRJ chapter in Nahariya, the Israeli town where Shalit was born.

Emet Ve Shalom, the only progressive, egalitarian synagogue in the Western Galilee, also decorated a chair in Shalit’s honor, explained Norma Cohen, co-president of Temple Emanu-El’s WRJ.

The Tucson group first placed an honorary chair for Shalit at its Women’s Seder earlier this year. Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon thought having the chair on the bimah for the High Holidays was “a wonderful idea,” said Cohen, who found a larger chair to decorate with white fabric, silk flowers and yellow ribbons. Israelis have tied yellow ribbons to their cars as a symbol of support for Shalit’s release.

“The important thing is that we remember him and that we pray he will be released,” Cohen said last week, noting that Hamas had not let anyone — even the Red Cross — visit Shalit. During Temple Emanu-El’s Kol Nidre service on Yom Kippur eve, Cohen spoke to the congregation about the twinning project and the chair.

The relationship between the two WRJ chapters does not involve financial support. “The idea is a bonding and a sharing back and forth of all kinds of things,” Cohen said, including drash (Torah commentaries) and recipes. There is a lively e-mail correspondence, which includes Spanish speakers from both communities (Emet Ve Shalom has a large population of Argentinian immigrants). The WRJ chapters are collaborating on several upcoming programs, such as a Shabbat/Havdallah service and a Passover event. For more information, contact Cohen at normaec7@aol.com.

On Tuesday, after reports surfaced of a deal for Shalit’s release, a joyous Cohen told the AJP, “Now we are pretty sure he’s still alive,” adding, “After hearing this, how can anyone ever doubt the power of prayer, because there were a lot of people praying for him around the world over the holidays.”