Gilad's mother, Aviva Shalit, spoke on behalf of her family and asked her son to forgive her "for failing to protect you and prevent the great suffering you are experiencing, although it's not under our control.
"Sorry for failing to bring you back home to this day, despite our many efforts," she said, promising to continue to work for her son's release "tirelessly".
"No more excuses, Gilad, and all the plentiful and sophisticated explanations already given," she said.
Some 300 people, including family members and friends, gathered at the center of the community. The relatives of fallen IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped by Hezbollah and whose remains were returned last year, took part in the event as well.
The event was launched with Gilad's voice, as recorded by his captors in a message delivered to Israel about two years ago. The event's participants held candles and white balloons and displayed a birthday cake with four chairs, marking Shalit's fourth birthday in captivity.
Lighting candles during rally (Photo: Avishag Sehar-Yeshuv)
"Our dear Gilad, you were a teenager when we said goodbye 1,160 days ago, and now you are a young man, who has experienced suffering and who has to cope on his own, alone with his fate," the kidnapped soldier's mother said as she began her speech.
"Tonight, as we mark your 23rd birthday, which takes place tomorrow, your fourth birthday in captivity in Gaza, I hope you can hear my voice out there in the darkness. Close, but far, light years away from us, away from here, from your home in Mitzpe Hila, from your room where everything froze 1,160 days ago, and is waiting for you. Far from us parents, Yoel and Hadas (Gilad's siblings), and our yearning for you grows stronger as time goes by – the hours, the days, the long nights, months and years."
'Prisoners could be home for holiday'
She added that her son had already paid the full, painful price for failures he was not to blame for. "You are carrying this burden on your narrow back all alone for the fourth year," she turned to her son.
She thanked the members of the Gilad Shalit Campaign who have been working night and day to secure his release, and also addressed the residents of the Gaza Strip, "the simple, uninvolved people, who are also paying a heavy price for this adventure of their leaders for more than three years, in demolished houses, under a siege, in poverty and hunger, and who cannot express their protest and frustration.
"In addition, the families of the many prisoners who could have already been home for this holiday. Yes, they are also waiting and longing for the day you return home," she said.
Shalit did not address the reports on progress made in the talks for a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, but concluded by saying that she was hoping to see her son and hug him very soon.
"We are sending you from her a lot of power and energy to hang on just a little longer. We are wrapping you from here with a lot of love, and we miss you."
Shimshon Liebman, chairman of the Gilad Shalit Campaign, spoke during the event as well. He called on the Israeli government to work courageously to bring about the kidnapped soldier's release.
"Gilad has disappeared among the most disgusting and cruelest enemies. We have not heard a word from his since, have not received a small note with three words: 'Hello mother and father,'" Liebman said.
Jewish communities around the United States have decided to hold special solidarity events in Shalit's honor on Friday, under the banner "Gilad is our son". The events will take place in Minneapolis, Miami, Tucson, Denver, New Jersey, Columbus, Phoenix, Tulsa and San Francisco.
As part of the initiative, members of the Jewish community will encourage people to sign protest cards addressed to the Red Cross demanding the organization ensure the captive soldier's visitation rights.