Had Karnit not married Udi Goldwasser, she probably would not be in America, standing before a sanctuary filled with 200 people, gently reminding them to remember Udi, along with Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit, Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah and Hamas respectively, and all presumed to be in captivity.
Goldwasser addressed the crowd with a quiet strength. The weight of all that she shoulders as the spokeswoman for the three men wears visibly on her pretty, tired face. And though her English sometimes breaks, her eloquence reaches beyond her words. "They kidnapped my husband, they stripped him of his civil rights," Goldwasser said. "I don't know if he had a glass of water. I don't know if that water is clean. I don't know if he has had a bath. Right now it is cold in Lebanon. I don't now if he has a blanket."
How can one event so thoroughly remake a life? Before Udi Goldwasswer was kidnapped along with Eldad Regev on July 12, 2006 when Hezbollah terrorists crossed the border into Israel, he and Karnit had been married only a short while after dating each other for nine years.
Goldwasser, a hydrologist, no more a spokeswoman than the next woman, was embarking on a new life when all the dreams and hopes that most newlyweds take for granted were snatched from her. Today she is, by her own description, the one who speaks for the soldiers.
"I am the representative of Eldad, Gilad and Udi," she stated, placing the other two before her husband. "I'm the voice for them, because they can't raise their voices."
Tiny and unassuming, Goldwasser's strength is impressive. At the United Nations this past fall, she entered a press conference where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was holding a press conference. Unafraid, she confronted him before a crowd of journalists. "Hello, my name is Karnit the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, the soldier who has been held captive for over a year," she said, according to published accounts. "Since you are the man that is behind the kidnapping due to the aid you grant Hezbollah, why don't you allow the Red Cross to visit the two soldiers?"
Ahmadinejad did not respond.
Goldwasser has said that she wanted Ahmadinejad to know that the wife of a kidnapped soldier could reach him. Since she was not carrying press credentials at the United Nations, security guards escorted her out of the conference, but not before she had made eye contact, and a powerful point.
Few of us think about how the lives that we imagine for ourselves can spin inextricably out of our control. One minute you can be a young wife in Nahariyah, Israel, waiting for your husband to return from reserve army duty and the in the next you are stumping before crowds of American Jews asking them to continue signing petitions, going to rallies and supporting legislation to remind the world that the person you love dearest isn't likely to come home tonight, or the next night or the one after that without their interest.
Goldwasser wants us to not only remember the soldiers, but also to hold Ahmadinejad and his Syrian proxy Hassan Nasrallah accountable as world leaders. If they want to be recognized on the world stage, she said, they need to play by the rules, allowing the Red Cross to examine the soldiers, to confirm that they are alive and well, to deliver letters and Bibles that have been sent, but that remain, undelivered, in the offices in Beirut.
Events in the Middle East develop and shift with lightning speed. The dust had barely settled after the Annapolis meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President George Bush when the news broke that Iran had stopped pursuing its nuclear program in 2003.
The Annapolis conference yielded no new accords, but suggested that Olmert and Abbas would continue to meet. What that means for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, the future borders between the two and the fate of Jerusalem is no more clear today than before the meeting. The news from Iran is equally muddy, whether from our own State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency or Israel's security analysts. Even if the Iranian's aren't pursuing nuclear weapons right now, it's not as if anyone really believes that's the last word on the subject.
World events move forward, but the fate of the abducted soldiers remains in limbo. What does anyone know of them? Last June, a year to the date after Shalit was abducted, Hamas released an audiotape of his voice sending greetings to friends and family and asking the Israeli government to conduct a prisoner exchange on his behalf. Nasrallah refuses to give any sign of life from either Udi Goldwasser or Eldad Regev. Signing petitions, attending rallies and lobbying for legislation in this country that calls for the release of the soldiers may seem like a pittance on their behalf, but it seems the least we can do.
It has been more than 500 days since Karnit Goldwasser last saw her husband. She has spent both the anniversaries of her marriage without her Udi. When she last spoke to him he was excited about doing his reserve service in Israel's north, a place he loved. He spoke of places he found to have a picnic, of bringing their dog. He related the simple, inconsequential stuff of his day. The sort of stuff that you say each day, because you cannot predict that the next day's outcome will be unimaginably horrifying. Love truly did invent Karnit Goldwasser. She has become today who she is she married Udi and because of the unchosen events that followed. She doesn't complain. She just continues.
"When I will meet my husband again - and I will do it - I will tell him about this place," she told the Barnert Temple gathering. "And I hope that next time I am here, I will be with Udi and I will sit in the audience. And he will speak."
Marla Cohen is editor of the Rockland Jewish Reporter.