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Remember and celebrate

Birthday twinning project remembers Gil-ad Shaer’s zest for life

‘Happy Birthday Two You’ aims to join together Jews with the same birthdate, inspired by the spirit of teenager murdered by Hamas

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

The Shaer family's latest project, Happy Birthday Two You, remembers their son, Gil-ad Shaer, center -- who was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists in 2014 -- by bringing together Jews around the world with the same birthdate (Courtesy Bat-Galim Shaer)
The Shaer family's latest project, Happy Birthday Two You, remembers their son, Gil-ad Shaer, center -- who was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists in 2014 -- by bringing together Jews around the world with the same birthdate (Courtesy Bat-Galim Shaer)

Bat-Galim Shaer — mother of Gil-ad Shaer, one of the three teenagers kidnapped and killed by terror group Hamas in June 2014 — has mourned deeply in the six years since her son was murdered.

Shaer also wants to celebrate Gil-ad’s life, most recently with a project meant to bring together Jews around the world as they find their birthday twins.

Called “Happy Birthday Two You,” the project matches any Jew aged 16 and over with another Jew who shares the same birthdate, and then invites them to contact each other and wish one another a happy birthday.

The birthday project is managed by the “Happy Birthday Two You” multilingual website, which is being launched on January 1, 2021, ahead of Gil-ad’s January 17 birthdate.

Birthday twins make contact only through the website, although people can later be in touch outside the project if they choose.

The website is part of the Shaers’ SonShine nonprofit organization, founded in Gil-ad’s memory and so called in honor of their son’s deep zest for life, said Bat-Galim Shaer.

Birthdays are happy occasions for everyone, said Shaer, and are the broadest and most basic common denominator common to all Jews, those who see their Jewish identity as a central component and those who don’t.

For the Shaers, Gil-ad’s birthday — he would have been 22 this year on his Hebrew birthday of the 19th of Tevet — is a complicated day.

“If I can do something real that gives strength and continuity, it gives strength on the day itself but allows us to get through this day,” said Shaer.

Ophir Shaer and his son, Gil-ad Shaer, prior to his 2014 kidnapping and murder (Courtesy Shaer family)

The birthday project was created from a competition the Shaers launched last year, as part of their search for projects that would deepen the relationship between Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora, a relationship they have engaged in since Gil-ad’s death.

“The Jewish nation came to our house after our experience, lots of Jews from all over the world and it was very real,” said Bat-Galim Shaer. “Suddenly we understood that you can’t discuss the nation of Israel without those who don’t live here, but that are close to us in our heart.”

In the years since Gil-ad’s murder, the Shaers have traveled to Jewish communities around the world, meeting Jews and making that connection.

Bat-Galim Shaer wants to remember her son, Gil-ad, by his zest for life (Courtesy Shaer family)

“I set myself the goal to strengthen that tie because I understood how important it is to be connected,” said Shaer, whose book about her experience and the strength she found in her connections to Israeli society, “Expecting My Child: A Mother’s Longing,” was recently translated into English. “Before our experience, I never really knew anything about Jewish communities worldwide.”

As part of their work with SonShine, the Shaers set up a global competition, connected to 50 other Jewish organizations, and asked for an idea that would help connect Jews worldwide. The competition received 700 proposals from people in 22 countries, and after a screening process, three ideas reached planning stages, including the “Happy Birthday Two You” project.

The birthday twinning concept was conceived by Canadian Oriya Barzilai, who has since immigrated to Israel.

“The concept behind this very simple idea is a statement that if we have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of Jews, and if they have one person they connect with in the Diaspora, or vice versa, how our outlook would change,” said Shaer. “It just does something, it could really make a difference.”

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