West Boca family joins global letter-writing campaign for Israeli soldier's freedom
By Rebekah Monson, Sun Sentinel
April 19, 2011
WEST BOCA— — The empty chair at the Kaskel's Passover table bears a photo of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier whom Hamas has held captive for five years.
"This is when we celebrate freedom, but Gilad Shalit is not free, and we hope this is the last year his parents will be without him at Passover," Sue Kaskel said.
The Kaskels have undertaken a global letter-writing campaign to free Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Palestinians in 2006 at 19.
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Shmuely, 12, and Shayna, 11, with the help of their parents, Dan and Sue, sent 164 letters asking for Shalit's release to heads of state across the globe — some to countries they never knew existed.
"It began as a bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah project, but this was not only a lesson for the kids in Jewish law, it's also a social action project," Sue Kaskel said. "On top of that, they've gotten a great lesson in geography."
The Kaskels spent hours poring over a globe, scouring Wikipedia for the addresses of capitols and stuffing envelopes to send to countries large and small, Dan Kaskel said.
"It's important to send them to the smaller countries, because maybe some of the smaller countries would have a better chance of getting him free," Shmuely said.
Shalit's captivity has become a cause célèbre among many Jews. Shalit has been held since 2006 without diplomatic or humanitarian aid, and Hamas demands the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for him.
"We are very optimistic," Dan Kaskel said. "We think maybe someone will receive this letter from a family in the U.S. and realize how important this is. Even if they don't release him, maybe we could help get him a visit from the Red Cross."
The Kaskels did not send letters to countries actively engaged in conflict with Israel, and they avoided sending one to Japan because the country is struggling to recover from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, he said.
"We're not really students of world politics, and we did send letters to many Arab countries; Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt," he said. "We're just hoping that someone who receives these letters might listen."
The Kaskels campaign demonstrates why it's important to get teens involved in social justice, said Josh Broide, director of the Jewish Student Union of South Florida.
"People are so critical of teens," he said. "But, when you give them an opportunity to do projects to serve others, they have great ideas. They really feel like they're a part of something big; something important."
Earlier this year, Jewish teens in South Florida distributed stickers for cell phones featuring Shalit's face and theWhite House phone number to encourage people to call for his release, Broide said.
The Kaskel's work to free Shalit is especially relevant at Passover, which began Monday night, he said.
"There's a point in the Seder when we get up and open the door to welcome the prophet Elijah," Broide said. "That's what it takes — getting up out of your chair. It's not going to happen just by sitting there. You have to get up and take action."
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