A little boy and his father, walking recently through the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, stopped in front of a poster on display in the entrance hall.
The child asked his dad who were the seven men in the poster and why their pictures were there. The father gently explained that these were Israeli soldiers who had gone missing in action. Using terms his son could grasp, he said their captors hadn’t let their parents see them or find out what happened to them for many years.
“That’s not nice,” the child said. His father continued that Jewish people in Israel and around the world were trying to rescue them.
When Stanley Stone, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, overheard that conversation, he was immensely gratified. “That is exactly what we wanted to achieve with the poster,” he said, “to raise awareness and get people to feel the sense of connection, that we share one destiny.”
While many are aware of Gilad Shalit — the Israel Defense Forces soldier abducted in June 2006 by Palestinian infiltrators near Gaza and held captive since then by Hamas — there is much less awareness of the other soldiers lost many years earlier, said Stone.
The poster does feature Shalit, but it also includes Zachary Baumel, Yehuda Katz, and Zvi Feldman, three soldiers who went missing in June 1982 during a battle with Syrian and Palestinian forces near the Lebanese village of Sultan Yaqub; Ron Arad, an air force navigator taken captive in October 1986 when his plane went down over Lebanon; Guy Hever, a soldier who disappeared in the Golan Heights in August 1997; and Majdy Halabi, an Israeli Druze soldier last seen hitchhiking back to camp on May 24, 2005.
Stone said, “While we focus on the positive achievements, and we continue to honor the victims of the Holocaust, this is part of our contemporary life — something that is happening now. In any terms, this is an unacceptable form of warfare, and no one on the other side is lifting a finger to counteract it.”
The poster was created by Adina Abramov, the federation’s director of marketing and communications, with information she gleaned from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She said, “When we decided to launch this campaign, my first step was to reach out to the various Israeli and Jewish organizations to see what material already existed. I was shocked to learn that not one organization or government agency had a single high-quality piece that pulled all of this together, so I decided to create one myself.”
Stone said the federation was eager to spread the word. Within the Central community, a second copy of the poster will be put to good use by Abir Maliyanker, the Israeli emissary to the federation, as he gives classes at schools and other venues.
Abramov expressed hope that the poster will generate increased awareness about the missing soldiers. “It is unconscionable that these young men be forgotten. Zack Baumel’s father passed away after dedicating decades of his life trying to find his son. They went missing while defending the State of Israel, and they are our sons and brothers. As Jews, we must never give up hope or reduce the pressure on governments around the world to find out what happened to them and secure their release.
“This poster is just a first step in recommitting our efforts to this endeavor.”
The poster has attracted the attention and offers of help from a number of politicians. At Super Sunday, the big federation fund-raiser on Dec. 12, Abramov escorted visiting VIPs to the display — including U.S. Reps. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) and Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6), State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Dist. 21), and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Dist. 21) — and further explained cases depicted, including the plight of the American-born soldier Baumel.
Stone said, “Each and every elected official who spoke to us about them said they would do what they can to help.”
Abramov said federation has already reached out to elected officials with additional information and materials in an effort to take them up on their offer. She also said that federation would make the electronic files available for reproduction by schools and agencies that want a copy of their own. She can be reached at email@example.com or 908-288-2404.