“We tried to get him exposed to as much of the sports industry as possible,” said Shacham. “He talked to owners. He did college sports. They mostly were interested in basketball, but they did some football as well.”
Shalit, for his part, shunned interviews, deftly dodging indiscreet questions from those who pressed him on how he survived.
Instead, he left his first article, a question-and-answer format he crafted with Henig, to speak for itself.
“In captivity, I preferred not to speak. I simply kept quiet,” he wrote.
“Between me and the guards we had only one thing in common: sports. It was just easier to talk about football [soccer]. That’s how I opened up. I’m sure that the sports distanced them, too, from daily problems.”
As Shalit, who emerged emaciated from his years as a captive explains it, watching sports ultimately let him transcend the circumstances of his imprisonment. But on only one occasion was he allowed to see his country’s Hapoel-Tel Aviv team compete in playoffs, against a team from Lyon, France. For the most part he watched European soccer.
“Sport is like an escape. It’s an escape from your daily problems and troubles,” Shalit wrote. “It gives people a moment of peace, to disconnect. In general, I imagine that a lot of the people of Gaza love sports, and they’re interested in these European teams because it distances them from the everyday.”
Shalit, for his part, comes off as painfully shy, bewildered by the attention. When he stopped in at the Dolphins’ training camp in Davie, the would-be reporter left a mark on rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
“It was really eye-opening for me to visit with a person that has been through that kind of experience.” Tannehill said in a statement provided by the team. “I really respect that he was able to live through that ... It really put things in perspective for me.”
In Henig, Shalit has found a mentor who is squiring him around the world and espousing the ethos, says the consul general, that sports “is a universal language that overcomes all sorts of different cultures and different agendas.”
The road trip that will next take them to Kiev for EURO 2012, the European soccer championships, effectively ends a period of self-imposed seclusion for Shalit.
His arrival in South Florida has caused a sensation. A waitress at Moe’s Deli in Aventura recognized him. Members of Miami’s Jewish community jostled to pose for pictures with him at a small reception put on by the consulate. These were the people who lobbied former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz to declare Shalit an honorary citizen in 2009, a gesture to signal that the world had not forgotten the man who was denied visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
“I consider him the Israeli John McCain,” said Rabbi Eliot H. Pearlson. During Shalit’s years of captivity, Pearlson kept a photo of the young soldier on display in an empty chair alongside his lectern in Temple Menorah in Miami Beach.
“This young man really does embody the feeling of true Zionism: No matter how bad things are, you persevere and then you get up and go moving again.”