I've been glued to the story of #EyalGiladNaftali, the three Israeli teens (one of which is a US citizen) who were abducted by on Thursday night. This is a problem. Three young men being taken captive for no other reason than they are Jewish and in Israel and a chip to be bargained with. These issues are not too far from home. People being abducted, terrorism, prisoners, that’s all first world problems too, that can happen right down the street in Somerville when we least expect it.
People go missing. Innocent people go missing or get taken every day in this world. So why do these three boys pull at my heartstrings so much? Why am I tagging #bringbackourboys but barely tagged #bringbackourgirls when several hundred schoolgirls were abducted by Nigerian militants?
I don’t have a good answer for that. I don’t. I can’t explain why Israel, a country I have only visited once (for a multitude of reasons, and I’m ashamed of not going more), and three Israeli boys, none of which I know personally, hits me so hard. But it does. I’ve been praying for these three boys, reading, watching, posting, and tagging about them all week, and beg for their safe release. I can’t explain rationally why I cry for their families, and resurrect my prayer book of Tehillim to ask Hashem for their freedom, but I do. This takes me to Ilan and Andrew, the two characters in my play FROM THE DEEP (FTD), which will be premiering in March 2015 through Boston Public Works. I see the faces of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, and I think about Ilan and Andrew. I think about two boys who I have spent the past year and a half writing about, and here are some real, present day faces to the stories I was telling and it makes me sick.
In FTD, the character of Ilan is loosely inspired by Gilad Shalit, an Israeli POW who was held captive from June 25th 2006 to October 18th 2011. I followed his captivity like many people at a mostly Jewish Liberal Arts college, I went to a rally or two, posted on Facebook about it occasionally, and when he was released, I celebrated by myself in my apartment with tears streaming down my face. Like many I was conflicted about the terms of Gilad’s release, but also so happy that another solider was returned alive and not in a body bag. The year Gilad was taken a distant cousin of my father was taken as well, Ehud Goldwasser. He was one of many POW’s who were unable to tell their stories. His condition was kept secret, and he and fellow captive were returned deceased. In that instance this sort of terrorism became not just something I felt for Israel as a Jew who loves Israel, but it felt personal. It became personal. And yet, I can’t say I did much to help Gilad Shalit. I was not the kid who had my Facebook picture one of Gilad’s until his release, I never wore a “Free Gilad” t-shirt, and I never wrote a thing about him other than the occasional wall post.
I was in grad school when Gilad was returned. I was in the middle of working on The Bathroom Play, and I remember noting that I wanted to write something about Gilad, and about POWs but I had no clue what. On the first anniversary of Gilad’s release articles came out where Gilad was asked how he survived the five years, and what did he do with his time? And he answered, I played games. Later he went into more detail about crumpling paper balls and throwing them into a basket, making lists, drawing maps, and creating games as simple as those to keep his mind active. This blew my mind. I was struck by this idea, but still didn’t know how to express how I felt about it. A few weeks after the one year anniversary of Gilad’s release a young man in Boston went missing. I was working at BPT at the time and this college student’s face was posted all over the city. When he was found in the Charles River a few days later, I realized the story I needed to tell, the story of two missing people fighting to survive, the story of hope in the darkest of places, and the story about two kids. Sure, one kid was a solider in a country that is torn by religions, race, war, and boundaries, and the other was a college student, a good kid, well liked, camp counselor, and at the end of the day you Google him and the most recent hit is from 2012, the year he went missing. There are a million differences about those two young men, but the similarity that is most important to me is that they were/are someone’s son who went missing, they were/are part of someone’s family that has to go on the news and make a statement like “Bring back our boys,” or “bring back my son.”
I have been asked a few times now why I wrote FTD, and on different days I give different answers. Today, and probably since I heard the news of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, my answer is this: I wrote FTD because I am terrified of the idea that people can just disappear. We are all capable and susceptible to abduction. Sure, when you live in a country like Israel the treat is higher than let’s say Boston, MA, but still people go missing, people get taken, and we can only hope and pray that they are found safe and unharmed. But in the end of the day it could happen to any of us, it could happen to our children, it could happen to our parents, and that’s terrifying. Andrew and Ilan come from different worlds and yet I put them together in the room of the missing to try to breakdown what it means to be missing and ask what do the missing have to do to survive. And do you need hope to survive? I'd like to believe Gilad had hope, and my character Ilan fights hard to maintain his hope and to encourage Andrew to find hope. And also, I don’t think I have the answers, I really don’t have them, thank God I have not be in the situation ever to really have these answers, but does anyone really have those answers? Not having the answers is why I tried to write about them.
So what does all of this have to do with Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Like I said, I have no answers. But I know that my heart aches for them. I want to raise awareness. I want to do all the things I was too preoccupied with college to do for Gilad Shalit when he was in captivity. I want to be the dumb American wearing a Free #EyalGiladNaftali t-shirt, I want to go to rallies, I want to post on Facebook a billion times asking people to pray, meditate, think good thoughts, whatever, for their safe release. I look at the faces of these three boys and I think of my two fictional boys and all I can ask for is real hope. So, if you read this blog all the way to this point, please share the faces of these three missing boys, they could be your sons, brothers, parents, they could be you. I’m really not a political person, besides for my love for Israel and women’s body rights, and gay rights, I’m not really someone who posts about politics. So please put aside the politics for a moment and think of these three boys as three boys, as someone’s sons. Ask for their safe release.
You thought I had some great big secret? Well guess what, I don’t. Unlike you I’m not a celebrity. I’m just a guy. A nothing person. College students go missing all the time, people staple signs to trees and telephone poles, but then they disappear, fade in rain and wind, new ones go up as soon as the next kid’s missing from his dorm, or preschool, or camp trip. People go missing all the time, and the world quickly forgets them. A solider goes missing, he becomes a political figure.
I’m not a political figure.
You should see the rallies people had for you.
Have for me.
Right. Make for you. I remember hearing about the schools nationwide, tons of Jews have got your back, Zionists and what-not pleading for your release. They’ve got T-shirts. A kid on my campus walks around in a Free Ilan T-shirt all the time.
Yeah. They got websites for you.
And you don’t think they’ve got webpages for you? Your friends? Dean? Kate! You have to tell yourself they are looking for you. In fact, you’re more of a person to them than I am to any random person in the U.S. wearing some dumb T-shirt. They’ll be looking! You just gotta keep... strong.