The Shofar in the Ecuador Prison

Gilad was an Israeli expatriate living in Ecuador with his best friend Nati. The two young men traveled to Ecuador on their post-army tour-of-the-world and, like many Israelis, ended up staying. Months turned into years, and Gilad and Nati began working as document forgers. Eventually, the Ecuadorian government caught up with them, and they were sentenced to 13 years in prison.

When Gilad was arrested, he feared for his life. Ecuadorian prisons are infamous for their corruption, subhuman conditions, and violence. Prisoners walk around with weapons supplied to them by the prison guards, and gangs continue their old disputes inside its walls. Last year, 324 Ecuadorian prisoners were murdered by fellow inmates.

It didn’t take long for the violence to personally reach Gilad. After rumors spread in the prison about the two Jewish foreigners, they were viciously assaulted. Tragically, Nati was murdered. Gilad ended up fighting for his life in the hospital with multiple stab wounds. To the prison guards, these conditions didn’t matter. If Gilad healed, they would put him right back into his original cell. Lying in the hospital bed, Gilad felt like he was awaiting a death sentence. “I was asking G-d all day that my life be saved,” he said. “Show me that You didn’t forget about me!”

When Erev Yom Kippur arrived, Gilad was still in bed and barely conscious. If there was ever a time to be assured that he would be sealed in The Book of Life, this would be it. Suddenly he heard blasts. One long one. Three short ones. Nine tiny ones. It sounded like a ram’s horn, a Shofar. Gilad turned to the side and saw an IT technician fiddling around with a computer.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m testing the audio on the computer.”

“But why the Shofar sound?”

“What’s a Shofar?”

“That trumpet blast. Why’d you play it?”

“Oh! That! It’s just a random soundtrack I found on YouTube.”

To Gilad, it wasn’t random. From that moment on, he knew he would be okay. G-d was listening.

Meanwhile, Gilad’s case reached the desk of the Aleph Institute’s International Advocacy Team. Aleph began to explore every avenue possible to somehow spare Gilad’s life. It was a long shot, but perhaps there was a way to convince the Ecuadorian government to transfer Gilad to a safer prison. Aleph reached out to various contacts in Ecuador, Israel, and Washington and persistently explained the severity of Gilad’s situation. He was the only Jew they were aware of in an Ecuadorian prison. For that alone, he was in constant danger.

In a miraculous turn of events, the Ecuadorian government acquiesced and Gilad was transferred to the ‘gold standard’ of Ecuadorian prisons! With only 60 inmates, the small jail is safe and well maintained. Hashem heard Gilad’s heartfelt cries. Perhaps they pierced the heavens as much as the shofar does.

Ever since the transfer, Aleph has continued to guide Gilad and help him return to his Jewish roots. In addition to arranging for biweekly visits from a local Chabad Shaliach, Aleph sent him a pair of tefillin, weekly Shabbos kits, and care packages for the holidays. He even has a chavrusa – a partnered study session – with an Aleph staff member.

For the first time in his life, Gilad is discovering his own heritage — from an Ecuadorian prison cell of all places! “Aleph didn’t just save my life,” said Gilad. “They saved my neshama as well!”