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Committed Activist Takes Up Gilad Shalit's Cause

Jay Zuller ‘89YUHS ‘93YC

It’s been more than four years since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas, and in an era when the attention span of much of the world is no longer than a day, the tragic case may already have been forgotten by some. But for Jay “Yudi” Zuller ’89YUHS ’93YC the memory of Shalit’s imprison-ment is invoked every time he looks upon his 4-year-old son, Gilad, whom he named in Shalit’s honor.

“They say that when a baby is born, a voice comes out from the sky and says the name,” said Zuller. “When the doctor who delivered him told my wife and I that we had a son and asked his name, I said we hadn’t decided. As soon as those words were out of my mouth, I knew what his name would be. I told the doctor ‘Actually, I haven’t discussed it with my wife yet, but if she agrees, we do have a name.’ I understand my wife— she thinks along the same lines as I do. When I said his name would be Gilad, she nodded and said ‘Yes.’”

“ …if every person did what was in their power to do, things would be different. ”

The very next day, Zuller and his wife Aviva ’92S reached out to Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, through a mutual friend to tell him how they had decided to pay tribute to his son. It was the beginning of what has become a close friendship between the families—and also the beginning of a tireless campaign of activism by Zuller to bring attention to Shalit’s plight and to raise the funds Gilad’s family needs so they can continue working full time to bring about their son’s release.

Zuller, who made aliyah in 2009, has been a committed activist almost as long as he can remember. “My parents would take me to the Soviet Jewry rallies,” he said. “I still remember going as a kid down to Times Square and the U.N., being on my father’s shoulders and seeing the thousands of people and the outpouring of support.” He and Aviva operate a tzedaka foundation, the Israel Solidarity Fund of America. Launched in 2002, the foundation has raised more than $1 million for Israeli victims of terror through its Shirei Shalom Concert Series and through barbecues and other events that the Zullers have hosted at their house in Staten Island.

“It’s overwhelming to know what’s right and wrong and want to do something about it,” said Zuller. “Most people feel that there’s nothing they can do. I disagree. I feel that if every person did what was in their power to do, things would be different.”

Zuller is just one of the many people within the YU community who have become empowered to take up the Shalits’ cause. Fellow alumnus Avi Posner ’07YC helped arrange the Shalits’ participation in New York City’s Salute to Israel Parade in 2010, and the Wilf Campus has also hosted visits by Noam Shalit. To learn more about supporting Zuller’s efforts on behalf of the Shalit family, visit