by Alisa Roberts
Olympic Boulevard is thick with people. Some are talking, others walk with heads down, but they all converge on the steps of Beth Jacob. They fill the main synagogue. They fill the overflow room. When there is nowhere left to sit, they stand in the lobby. No one turns to leave.
“Tonight is a night for three things: For prayer, for remembrance, and for unity,” says Rabbi Adir Posy, opening the memorial service for Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrach, the three kidnapped teenagers whose bodies were found on Monday.
Prayer permeates the service, beginning with a reading of Tehillim. Teenage representatives from Bnei Akiva come forward to light three memorial candles. Then David Siegel, Consul General for Israel in Los Angeles, takes the stage.
“For 18 days, 452 hours, we held our breath as one collective body and soul, in Israel and around the world,” he says, “hoping, praying, and believing that three beautiful boys in the prime of their lives, Gil-Ad, Naftali, and Eyal, would somehow come home safely.” His voice is quiet, slightly hoarse. “Sadly, we’re left with the heart-wrenching images of three bodies wrapped in the prayer shawls of their fathers and draped in blue and white flags.”
He speaks of the difference between the boys and the evil that ended their lives, and then quotes from Melachim, “‘There are times when we stand proud like the cedars of Lebanon. But there are times when we seem to bend like a pliable reed that tosses in the wind.’ Our enemies have tried to break us. But the Talmud teaches us… that the Jewish people are like the reed. When you cut it, the reed does not die. It regenerates, for it has roots that run deep; a depth of nearly 4000 years. No storm, no enemy, no evil will ever uproot us. We may bend when necessary, but ultimately the storms subside, the enemy is himself destroyed, and we still stand tall. That is who we are.”
He praises the strength and faith of the families of the boys, and the unity the Jewish people has shown these past weeks. “We are one Nation, from Beverly Hills to Jerusalem.”
His consolation comes with an assurance and a reminder that terrorism is not an Israeli problem: “Israel will do what is necessary to bring these murderous terrorists to justice. We will not rest and we will not sleep until they are captured. Israel will take the steps that this country, and any country, would take to defend its people, and will leave no stone unturned – literally – until justice is done. Terrorism is a global threat and no one is immune. Our challenge is to stand together with one voice, around the world, against terrorism. Silence is a terrible accessory to terror.” He closes with words of Torah, and introduces Leehy Shaer, Gil-Ad’s aunt.
The room is silent as Leehy moves to the front.
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she begins, her voice quiet but steady. She speaks of the total faith she had had that the boys would be brought safely home, until the terrible news was confirmed on Monday.
“The victims were three helpless, innocent boys, who had done nothing hurtful to anyone.” She speaks about the boys, about her nephew. How he was a leader, how devoted he was to his five sisters. “He was my wonderful, talented, bright, and cool nephew. I would frequently talk with him on Skype and keep up with him on Facebook. He had my smile and we loved to laugh together. His parents named him Gil-Ad to mean happy forever. I always thought he would be Gil-Ad – happy forever. His parents and siblings only thought he would be happy forever. But the terrorists brought a sudden end to forever.”
She shares her shock and horror on hearing the news, says it left her shaking. “I will never see my smile on Gil-Ad’s face ever again. All I have left is the photo of his smile. In the last hours, my brother and his wife, along with the other fathers and mothers, each had to bury their son. Parents are not supposed to bury their sons.”
But even in her grief, she has words of inspiration. “We, the Jewish people, are a religion of life – chaim. Life is so important and precious to us. Our terrorist neighbors understand that and therefore prey upon us, thinking that they found our weakness. They don’t realize that life is our strength, and we will not be broken by any of their actions.” She waits for the applause to quiet again.
She thanks the IDF and the Israeli government, and then the community in Los Angeles for standing with her during this time. “Upon the return of the boys I had hoped, I really had hoped, to plan a huge seuda todaya, a thanksgiving meal, for all of you, to thank Hashem and to thank you for all your help to bring the boys home. That was my dream.”
“I and all my family pray that these are the last three boys who will ever be the victims of terror…I pray that the leaders of the world will join together to stop terrorism and stop the teaching of hate. As a nation we come together. We did everything possible to find the three boys. As a nation we must remain together to never let the world forget our three boys… May justice be upheld, may evil be wiped out, and may the memory of Gil-Ad, Eyal, and Naftali stay alive forever.”
Jay Sanderson, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation, and Richard Bloom, Assembly member for District 50, offer condolences and chizzuk. Donald R. Cook, on behalf of CUFI, shares words of friendship and solidarity.
Hundreds of people pour back out onto the street yet not everyone is ready to go. Crowds line the steps and the sidewalk. People wait in line to speak to Leehy; others gather in groups to talk to one another.
Raphael Nemes, new to LA, is overwhelmed by the turnout. “This has been such a powerful and moving show of support for the families and a show of unity for the Jewish People,” he said.
Rabbi Posy had ended the remembrance service with a story that everyone is still discussing. “Just a few weeks ago, on Friday afternoon,” he said, “Racheli Fraenkel, who is Naftali’s mother, spent the last few minutes of her preparations for Shabbat on a phone call with hundreds of American rabbis. On that call she said these words that we will never forget; she said that if Hamas realized how their actions would have unified the Jewish people, they never would have done it.”