South Florida has received quite a boost from the newly crowned National Basketball Association champion Miami Heat. It’s difficult to describe the frenzy of Heat fans in their quest for victory. It is truly compelling that in this time of economic downturn, the Heat sold out every home game. Apparently, the thrill of experiencing this type of event is quite powerful.
Sports is the quintessential bonding experience for diverse members of a community. CEOs and janitors, professors and school dropouts, men and women, youngsters and grandparents all get caught up in the euphoria.
Hotels were filled with tourists. Many visitors came from out of town. Some were fans of the opposing team. Some took advantage of the party-like atmosphere to take vacations. There were sportscasters and “wannabes,” family, friends and entourages of the players, and individuals who just wanted to be part of the exciting mix.
One visitor, however, was so unlikely that his presence was almost surreal. Former prisoner of Hamas Gilad Shalit was in town to launch his new career as a sportswriter. He watched the NBA finals and visited the Miami Dolphins training camp and the University of Miami football team.
Shalit was a 19-year-old Israeli soldier when he was kidnapped in a raid by Hamas terrorists in 2006. He was held hostage for over five years. His photo showed a bespectacled sweet-faced kid. He could have been anyone’s brother, son, neighbor or grandchild. In all that time his whereabouts where unknown. His captors denied him visits from the International Red Cross. Jews everywhere were haunted by his wrenching story.
Prime Minister Netanyahu ultimately did the unthinkable to save this one Israeli soldier. On October 17, 2011, Shalit was released in exchange for more than 1,000 Arab prisoners.
Gilad has kept out the spotlight since his return. He came to Florida with his newfound mentor, Arik Henig, a popular Israeli media figure who writes for newspapers and television. Henig, a seasoned reporter, was showing the ropes to his young protegé.
The question, of course, is how was it possible? Shalit is painfully shy and soft-spoken. How did this young man survive his ordeal? He was a kid alone. How did he muster the strength?
Shalit is a very private person. He does not like to be interviewed. He usually shuns discussion about his time in captivity. However, he shared some insights while in Miami. His revelations were poignant.
He told of his saving grace: he was given a radio by his jailers and was allowed to listen to sport broadcasts. Sometimes he even watched a televised soccer game with his guards. He had a distraction; a way to avoid dealing with his terrible predicament. He had a way to survive.
There are many who have great disdain for sports. They dismiss it as nahrishkeit (nonsense). They look down on those who play and those who watch.
The Rambam advised pleasurable distraction as a way of refreshing oneself and going on in one’s life. He suggested walks in a beautiful garden. Obviously he never heard of the NBA.
Life is often difficult. It is always terminal. One does not have to be a prisoner of terrorists to become overwhelmed by it all. Torah study, prayer, work and obligations are important. Sometimes there is a great need for a time out to refresh and revive.
About the Author: Shelley Benveniste is South Florida editor of The Jewish Press.
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