Noam Shalit has a senior position in Iscar's marketing department in the Tefen Industrial Park. Eitan Wertheimer, one of the company owners, continued to pay his salary even when he took leave from work in order to devote his time to the campaign for his son's release.
Wertheimer even provided the Shalit family with an apartment in Jerusalem, funded the family members' personal needs, including food, and helped finance the campaigns.
Wertheimer has refrained from discussing his relationship with the Shalit family until now, when their son is finally home. "This is a great moment for the people of Israel, and for the Iscar family, which stood by Shalit the entire period," he says.
"There's nothing unusual in what we did. I believe every other employer in Israel would have done the exact same thing."
In late June 2006, when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, Iscar workers visited the shocked family in the northern community of Mitzpe Hila on a daily basis. Now they want to see Noam Shalit come back to work.
"We miss Noam. We've been waiting for this moment for many years," one of the factory workers says, "but we'll wait for them to finish the absorption process and give Gilad the warmth he needs."
When the family decided to move into a protest tent outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, the company provided them with an apartment in the capital and food deliveries.
"We did it wholeheartedly," says Wertheimer. "I hope no one ever has to go through what the Shalit family went through for five and a half years. We were at their side and did all we could to make things easier for them. It's hard for to talk about it, because some things are better kept silent."
Were you at their side from the very first day?
"Yes, but no one knew at the time where it was going. We sat with them at Mitzpe Hila. We didn't know how long it would take."
In 2006, when Warren Buffett visited Israel after acquiring Iscar, he asked to meet with Noam Shalit and express his support. At the time, Noam would come into work occasionally.
"We decided to allow Noam to dedicate himself to the cause and take time off, as long as it takes. As a business, there was no question about it. It was clear that we would help the family. Seeing Gilad return home was the most important thing for all of us."
Did you donate a lot of money?
"Everyone in Israel did what they could, and I did what I could too. But it wasn't just me. It was mostly the people at Iscar. Everyone felt the same way.
"We didn't think about abandoning the family. On the contrary, we kept on telling them, 'We are here for you.' It wasn't a question of price. No one thought twice. Everyone was involved in the process of supporting the family."
Wertheimer refused to comment on reports that his family used its ties among world leaders to further the negotiations for Gilad Shalit's release.
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