The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America is launching a grass-roots effort to raise American awareness of the plight of Israeli soldiers still missing in Lebanon.
To initiate the campaign, the O.U. has declared Dec. 18- 19 a Shabbat of remembrance for the missing Israeli servicemen.
“This Sabbath will be marked by prayer, Torah study and a call to political action on behalf of the MIAs, ” said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, chairman of the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs.
Ron Arad, who has been missing since 1986, and Zachariah Baumel, Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, who have been missing since 1982, “are four missing soldiers whose whereabouts and conditions have not been divulged by those who are responsible, ” said Sheldon Rudoff, president of the O.U.
“It is up to the Jewish community to raise the consciousness of the American people and their elected officials and to call attention to the fact that the age of the hostages has not come to an end,” he said.
“Despite Israeli cooperation in aiding the release of the American and European hostages (in Lebanon), the Israeli hostages were excluded and are still held captive.”
This Shabbat was chosen for the campaign kickoff because of the relevance of the weekly Torah portion, according to the O.U. portion, Parshat Vayeshev, relates the how Joseph was cast out by his brothers and how his father, Jacob, remained inconsolable over the loss of his son. Plagued with questions concerning his favorite son’s fate, Jacob never quite believed that Joseph was dead.
“We are also torn apart by the question of whether four Jewish sons, our lost Israeli soldiers who are still missing in action, are still alive, ” wrote Ganchrow and others in a letter to Orthodox rabbis and synagogue leaders.
The O.U. is requesting that all member congregations leave an empty chair on the sanctuary bimah and on the dais at all celebrations “in order to remember that our Israeli brothers are still being held captive and that their families are in great pain.”
In addition, every synagogue is requested to conduct a study session on the subject of pidyon shevuyim, redemption of captives, at some point during the course of Shabbat.
“The redeeming of captives is uppermost on the Jewish agenda, and e are calling on our nationwide network of synagogues to join in this endeavor which is now our highest priority, ” Ganchrow explained.
Shabbat Vayeshev is just the beginning of “an ongoing campaign until all the missing soldiers are returned,” according to Betty Ehrenberg, executive director of the Institute for Public Affairs.
Ehrenberg said the Sabbath before Purim, Shabbat Zachor, will also be designated as a special Sabbath for the missing servicemen.
The grass-roots effort will include sending petitions from all over the country to President-elect Bill Clinton. In addition, letters of support and solidarity are being signed and sent to the families of the missing soldiers.
“We, too, are searching for our lost brothers and will remain inconsolable until they are found,” Ehrenberg stated.